Big Springs Trail Point 12

Number12Hard Lessons Learned

Healthy Open Ponderosa ForestThe agency policies and approaches to managing our public lands have changed over time, and have taught us important lessons. A century ago, forest managers believed that the best way to conserve the national forests was to eliminate periodic natural fires, once considered to be destructive to both trees and forage for livestock.

Unhealthy Dog-Hair ThicketYet, without natural fire, many saplings became established and grew into dense “dog-hair thickets” that crowded out grasses and other plants. The crowded pines competed for space,  water, nutrients and sunlight, and tree and forest health declined.

Instead of open forests of large, well-spaced trees, dog-hair thickets of unhealthy pines created a much greater threat for devastating and unnaturally huge wildfires – the very thing forest managers were trying to prevent.

WildfireFire plays a vital and natural role in shaping our ponderosa pine forests. Historically, summer lightning sparked ground fires that periodically swept through the ponderosa pine forest every 3 to 7 years. Look for evidence of fire scars on large mature ponderosa pines.  These trees are well adapted to frequent fire with thick, protective bark. Self-pruning eliminates low hanging branches and spread of the fire from the ground to their crowns.

Aberts SquirrelPeriodic fires kept the forests open, prevented build-up of fuels, and reduced competition. Gambel oaks thrived after fires along with an abundance of grasses, wildflowers and shrubs. This diversity of plant life provided excellent habitat for many wildlife species, including Aberts squirrels, unique to ponderosa pine. Visit the nearby forest health interpretative displays at the Nature Center.

Trail Themes

The numbered posts correspond to the symbols below and the points of interest you’ll encounter along the trail. Each point is described in this guide. The symbols relate to these key interpretative themes:


Please tread lightly by staying on trails.
“Take only pictures and memories – leave only footprints.”

Trail pages

Trail Point 1

Trail Point 2

Trail Point 3

Trail Point 4

Trail Point 5

Trail Point 6

Trail Point 7

Trail Point 8

Trail Point 9

Trail Point 10

Trail Point 11

Trail Point 12

Trail Point 13

Big Springs is located on Woodland Road, ½ mile south of White Mountain Blvd. (State Route 260), adjacent to the White Mountain Wildlife & Nature Center. Many improvements have been made at Big Springs to facilitate environmental education and public use. Many such improvements were funded by the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Fund, established by voter initiative in 1990, with funding from the Arizona lottery. The latest improvements and brochure printing were funded by a Secure Rural Schools Act grant from the U. S. Forest Service to the White Mountain Nature Center. Big Springs is managed under a unique partnership. Land ownership is national forest, with a special use permit for an outdoor classroom issued to the Blue Ridge Unified School District. These partners cooperate in its management and enhancement: