About half a million round-trip hikes take place at Tumamoc Hill every year. A collection of newly installed signs along the west-side walking trail seeks to add an educational element to those hikes.
Michael Rosenzweig, director of Tumamoc and a University of Arizona professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, believes each hike represents an opportunity to bring the classroom outdoors and to create stewards of Tumamoc’s unique ecology.
Rosenzweig and a group of community stakeholders, including Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva and Tucson Councilor Regina Romero, gathered on the hill Tuesday to celebrate the installation of the signs. The hill, west of "A" Mountain and downtown Tucson, is an 850-acre ecological and archaeological reserve.
Rosenzweig said Tumamoc's hikers have been "having fun and they're getting healthier, but they're not learning anything."
Now they will.
Joaquin Ruiz, dean of the UA College of Science, said "half of Tucson" exercises at the hill, calling it "a place where arguably modern ecology was invented."
Paul Mirocha, a scientific illustrator and graphic designer, created artwork for the signs. He said they were placed at 1.5-mile intervals along the trail, where hikers might naturally stop to catch their breath and enjoy the view. They also were designed so that they could be replaced as needed, based on hikers' response.
"People see Tumamoc as an exercise course," said Mirocha, but the signs will "create a mixture of health and ecology."
"It's really gratifying when people stand there long enough to read them and discuss," he said.
The signs, funded by a grant from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, feature wildlife indigenous to Tumamoc and explanations of how they fit into the ecological landscape. The explanations were a collaboration between the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Rosenzweig, who joked about how wrongly he would have represented the mule deer without the department's help.
"Teaching science is not like filling a bucket with lots of interesting facts," Rosenzweig said. "It's lighting a fire."
The signs at Tumamoc Hill were designed to light that fire.