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Starting on July 16, some of the most popular trails in Phoenix, Arizona will close during extreme heat events, the city has announced. The trails, selected based on the number of rescues conducted there each year and the level of difficulty, include Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain and all of the Piestewa Peak trails in Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Those routes will now close between 11 pm and 5 pm when the city is under an excessive heat watch; the pilot program runs through September 30.
The decision comes after a city board meeting on July 13, where several members of the Phoenix Fire Department Technical Rescue Team, who perform rescues on city open space, requested restrictions at three Camelback and Piestewa trailheads when temperatures rise over 105 degrees. A dozen members of the team suffered heat-related injuries while rescuing stricken hikers on June 16.
Emergency personnel rescue around 200 people from Phoenix parks every year. In 2019, 90 of those rescues were on Camelback Mountain, with Piestewa trailing behind at 43. Most calls are for hikers suffering from heat-related medical conditions like heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and dehydration. As the area population increases and climate change drives average temperatures ever higher, the trails have become more dangerous for hikers and first responders alike.
“During the Valley’s warm weather months, and regardless of an Excessive Heat Watch being in effect, it is recommended that trail users hike during the early morning or evening hours when it is cooler and there is more shade,” city officials said in a press release announcing the new program. The press release went on to note that, in an effort to encourage hikers to venture out after 7 p.m. when temperatures are relatively cooler, parking lots would stay open until 9 p.m. and trails until 11 p.m. through September.