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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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8/5/2012 12:01:00 AM
Picturesque new trail loops Watson Lake
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Michele Zanolin, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, hikes the Watson Lake Trail Thursday.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
Michele Zanolin, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, hikes the Watson Lake Trail Thursday.
Circle Trail easement decision approaches later this month
PRESCOTT - Depending on a city decision slated for late August, local trail volunteers soon could have a new goal on their list: Construction of more than six miles of the Prescott Circle Trail.

Officials say a proposal for the city's lease of about 6.6 miles of trail easements over Arizona State Trust Land should go to the Prescott City Council on Aug. 28.

If that proposal is successful, Parks and Recreation Joe Baynes was hopeful that work could get under way on the new trail sections by this winter and be completed over the next year.

The easements would run from the Turley Trail in the Government Canyon area to the Peavine Trail near Watson Lake; and from the Pioneer Parkway area to Trail 347 near Williamson Valley Road.

The matter first went to the City Council as a presentation in early June, and elicited a mostly positive response. Later in June, the council retained the $500,000 allocation in the city's 2012/2013 budget for purchase of open space.

The proposal calls for spending $120,000 of that open space sales-tax revenue for a combination of 10-year and 50-year leases on the 6.6 miles.

Baynes said a group of city officials plan to travel to Phoenix on Tuesday to meet with State Land Department officials to "confirm what steps need to be completed."

If the city does proceed with the new trail sections, that would leave only about a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of unfinished Circle Trail through private ranchland west of Williamson Valley Road, near the Pioneer Parkway intersection, Baynes said.

The push for a trail circling Prescott began more than 20 years ago, when the Yavapai Trails Association came up with the idea for the 50-mile recreational loop.

The effort started with the Turley Trail in the early 1990s, and has grown to include sections of city, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University land.

The trails take in picturesque areas such as Thumb Butte, Granite Mountain, and Quartz Mountain. Advocates say the loop would be a boon to tourism in the area.

Cindy Barks
The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - With a loop trail around one of Prescott's Granite Dells-area lakes now complete, the city and a group of volunteers have tackled the other lake in the area.

Prescott Trails Specialist Chris Hosking reported this week that the long-awaited Watson Lake Loop Trail is now officially open to the public.

And that sets the stage for the latest effort: The construction of a loop around Willow Lake - a project that Hosking expects to be done by September.

Both city lakes have had sections of trail in place for years, but neither featured a complete loop. Noting that trail users generally prefer a loop route to an out-and-back trek, Hosking said the lake circle-trails have long been among his goals.

The first section of the Watson Lake Loop appeared in the late 1990s with the opening of the Peavine Trail, the city's rails-to-trails route that runs along the lake's eastern edge.

The city and its group of stalwart volunteers, the Over the Hill Gang, then began chipping away at the loop, with lakeside sections such as the Lakeshore, the Over the Hill, the Discovery, the Flume, and the Explorer trails.

The final obstacle went away earlier this year, when the Prescott City Council approved a license agreement with private owners Charles and Margaret Horsley to allow a public trail over a 0.6-mile gap.

Work began on the Northshore Trail in about April, and the Over the Hill volunteers spent several months dislodging tons of boulders to give trail users a convenient and scenic route along the lake's edge.

The new trail section connects Watson's old boat dock area with the existing trails near the Watson Lake dam.

Because the new section traverses steep granite terrain, Hosking cautions that it is not an easy route.

"I would rate it pretty high (in difficulty)," Hosking said this past week. Although noting that the trail's granite is "very grippy," he said, "It is definitely steep."

The trail, which offers dramatic views of Watson Lake and the granite formations that border it, already has become an appealing destination for hikers.

"People were using it ever since we started building it," Hosking said, adding that the official opening occurred after last week's installation of the necessary trail signs.

As a part of the signage, the city installed several-dozen reminders about safety. Among other things, the signs state that users are responsible for their own safety and preparedness, and voluntarily assume all risk of injury.

Because of the steep rock faces in the area, liability issues arose during the City Council's discussion of the license agreement, prompting the additional signage.

Hosking predicts that the scenic terrain and easy access off of Highway 89 could help to make the Northshore trail one of Prescott's most popular routes. "It is a memorable trail," he said.

Soon after construction work was complete on the Watson Lake Trail, Hosking and the Over the Trail Gang moved across Highway 89 to Willow Lake, where a similar gap existed in the loop trail.

George Sheats, a volunteer with the Over the Hill Gang, said the new section of trail would consist of about three-quarters of a mile from the Willow Lake Dam to Willow Lake Road, and would link existing trails in the area.

In addition, he said, volunteers are working on two small side loops to offer trails users more options.

The new section will include more than 70 stairs that will take hikers on a steep climb from below the dam to a nearby high point, Sheats said.

For the past two months, volunteers have been meeting on Mondays and Fridays to build the new trail, Sheats said.

A portion of the new trail will be seasonal because of the varying levels of the lake, and Hosking said he expects the loop to officially open after the monsoon season in September.

With the Watson and Willow lake loops now nearly complete, Sheats said the Over the Hill Gang is looking ahead to building a new system of trails on the city-owned Nature Center off Williamson Valley Road.

For the volunteers, having an ambitious list of trail goals is anything but daunting, Sheats said. "It really keeps the interest up," he said, pointing out that Over the Hill Gang membership continues to grow. "It's become kind of like if somebody has a little extra time, they want to be part of this," he said.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, August 09, 2012
Article comment by: Ginger McMahan

I have had the pleasure of hiking the new sections of the Willow Lake Trail this week and I am so imoressed with all of the volunteers hard work to get this done! Yes, it would be nice if the lake had more water!! But the views and trail quality are outstanding! Thank you to all of the people who have worked tirelessly to enhance the hiking around these lakes. Great job!

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Jack May

Boy it would be nice if the Courier included a map of the new trail and where it intersected the existing trails. Every time a new section is added it is left up to the reader to imagine just where this wonderful trail extension is located.

How hard is it to include a hand drawn map showing where the new trail is located???

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: @Cory Saz

Below is from a Courier article from 2010:

"One of the city's goals when it bought the lakes in 1998 was to maintain water year-around to allow for recreation.

That has created a situation in which little circulation occurs in the manmade lakes. And because the lakes depend on runoff water that comes from an urban watershed, pollution is common. In 2004, Watson Lake landed on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency list of impaired bodies of water.

In turn, the "nutrients" or pollution in the water have led to the growth of weeds and algae. The thick carpet of blue-green algae is especially rampant this summer."

So its not just because of lack of run off....

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Pat O'Brien

If I lived in Prescott the first thing I would do is join the "Over the Hill Gang." It seems their name has more to do with what is over the next ridge on the trail as opposed to ages of the members. Thanks!

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Cory Saz

@ what view?
Umm that's due to the lack of snow last winter and little rainfall so far this monsoon. It'll be back, just gonna take some time.

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Fill Er Up!

Am I the only one who hears a sort of sucking sound when I drive along Willow Lake Rd? So sad - the receding water lines say it all. It's a man-made lake can't we just fill it up? Somebody quick, get a hose! We now call it Watson Puddle. I think you might just be able to walk across the whole thing right now and you'd look like Jesus walking on the water! Nobody would know the whole "lake" is covered with only three inches of mucky water! I'm glad we have a new trail and applaud those who volunteered to build it, but the lake itself needs a lot of work. Anybody at the City listening or is this problem just way over your heads (unlike the water level)?

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Add to 'What View'

And. City of Prescott. Please! Please quit dumping sewage and letting upstream businesses pour bad creek discharge into our lakes. Rethink the Elks fiasco - sell the damn thing - and use the money to clean up our lakes! Get your priorities straight for once.

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: What View?

They should be talking about cleaning up both the lakes so there is something "picturesque" to look at. Willow lake has gotten so bad, there are more bugs and mud than water. Please city of Prescott, clean up these mudholes so they can be enjoyed!

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Thrilled Resident

Three cheers for the volunteers that put so much into making the outdoors of Prescott a joy! Thank you!

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2012
Article comment by: Ron R. Harvey

The Over the Hill Gang's accomplishments in the Dells are truly incredible. I can't think of a single volunteer group that has given more to our city than they have. These trails will be in use for countless generations. Thank you!

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