Usery Mountain Park hike celebrates centennial

Despite blustery winds and an on-again, off-again drizzle, about three dozen hardy hikers gathered at an outdoor amphitheater at Usery Mountain Regional Park in northeast Mesa on Valentine's Day.

Most were there because they had hiked at least 100 miles on trails in...

by John Stanley - Feb. 17, 2012 07:00 AM
The Republic | azcentral.com

Despite blustery winds and an on-again, off-again drizzle, about three dozen hardy hikers gathered at an outdoor amphitheater at Usery Mountain Regional Park in northeast Mesa on Valentine's Day.

Most were there because they had hiked at least 100 miles on trails in the Maricopa County Parks system between Nov. 1 and Jan. 30. The program was part of the parks' "100 Miles of Hiking" centennial celebration.

Ranger Brennan Basler, aka "Ranger B," drily announced that the last recorded rainfall at the park was on Dec. 13.

Basler served as emcee for the chilly ceremony, calling the names of those who had completed the challenge, handing them their T-shirt and, often, posing for photos with the recipients.

Altogether nearly 150 people completed the challenge, hiking 100 miles or more on park trails. Several other parks held similar ceremonies on Tuesday.

John Velotta of Mesa is a member of the "Fab Five," a group of dedicated hikers. All five had completed the 100-mile challenge; Velotta had been designated to pick up their shirts.

Velotta said they had hiked in nine of the 10 county parks, as well as a 35-mile-long segment of the Maricopa Trail, which, when completed, will loop about 240 miles around the Valley, connecting all parts of the Maricopa County Parks system.

"It was nice to do something that ties into the state's centennial celebration," said Velotta, a third-generation Arizonan. "It's good to see how (the parks system) has preserved the environment and set aside the land for future generations to enjoy."

Diane Soch, a winter visitor from Edmonton, Canada, and her husband, Bert, each got a shirt.

"We love the desert and do lots of hiking," Diane said. "(The centennial challenge) just added a little extra fun to the hiking."

The Sochs, who live in Mesa during the winter, completed about 125 miles, Diane said, hiking in the Usery, San Tan Mountain Regional and McDowell Mountain Regional parks.

The youngest hiker to complete the challenge was 11-year-old Ashley Flowers, who hiked with her grandmother, Dee Casey, of Mesa.

Casey said she hiked about 130 miles; Flowers did about 102.

Flowers wanted to do the challenge because she knew her grandmother was doing it, "and I wanted to do it with her." She said her favorite hike was on the Cat's Peak Trail at Usery Park.

After the awards, Basler led a 100-minute hike in honor of the centennial.

Despite cool temperatures and low gray clouds that left a dusting of snow on the nearby Superstition Mountains, about 40 people followed Basler into the desert.

So did Skipper, an 8-year-oldBichon-Yorkie mix, who was there with his human, Bob Whistlecroft, of British Columbia. Before the hike was over, Skipper was sporting a red raincoat.

Basler stopped from time to time during the hike to explain various features of the park's geology, plant life and history, including the origins of the gigantic, white "Phoenix" sign on the side of Usery Mountain.

"I loved the simplicity of the idea of a 100-minute hike to commemorate the 100 years (of statehood)," he said.

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