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4:53 PM Mon, Oct. 15th

City opens new stretch of trail at Watson Lake

City of Prescott/Courtesy photo<p>
The new Lakeshore Trail near Watson Lake runs more than two scenic miles through rocks.

City of Prescott/Courtesy photo<p> The new Lakeshore Trail near Watson Lake runs more than two scenic miles through rocks.

PRESCOTT - Dipping into shady gorges and rising to expansive overlooks, the new Lakeshore Trail near Watson Lake takes full advantage of all that the scenic Granite Dells have to offer.

For more than two miles, hikers and cyclists can travel deep into the massive rock formations that lie between the lake and the Peavine Trail.

While sometimes not more than a few yards from the popular rails-to-trail route, the new Lakeshore option lends the feeling of seclusion.

That was intentional, according to Chris Hosking, the city trails specialist who designed the trail.

Walking along a stretch that runs parallel to the Peavine, Hosking said, "The Peavine's right there, but you don't see it; you don't hear it."

For Hosking, the Lakeshore Trail offered an opportunity to show off the natural features of the Dells.

"It's not about the shortest distance between two points," Hosking said of the serpentine route of the new trail. "It's about finding the coolest spots."

And plenty of notable sights lie along it - from the overlook that offers a wide view of the granite-studded lakeshore, to the large slabs of granite that serve as a base for much of the trail.

For more than six months, Hosking has been working on the trail with members of the Over the Hill Gang, a group of retirees who volunteer to move the boulders, groom the trail-bed, cut the brush, and fill in the crevices. (See related video on the Over the Hill Gang at www.dcourier.com).

Noting that the Peavine - with its gentle grade and wide, flat surface - already attracts as many as 36,000 visitors a year, Hosking said he was after a different experience for the Lakeshore Trail.

"It's definitely not the Peavine," Hosking said recently, as he navigated up and over the rugged boulders. "It is really a hiking trail."

George Sheats, one of the volunteers with the Over the Hill Gang, agrees. He pointed out that the trail, which features white dots to alert hikers to the trail route, offers a fairly unique option, because it goes over the rocks, rather than around them.

Hosking said he modeled the new trail after a similar one that the city opened near Willow Lake about a year ago.

With six different approaches from the Peavine, the Lakeshore Trail also offers hikers the chance to vary their routes.

From the Sundog Ranch Road trailhead, the first approach sits at about the one-mile mark of the Peavine, near the memorial for the "Running Girl," Jessica Martin.

From there, five more approaches appear on the lake side of the trail. All of the approaches come with signs and maps of the new trail, and one features a bike rack and bench.

Hosking sees the trails as a benefit to the hundreds of acres of open space that the city has been acquiring in recent years. Not only do the trails provide access to the general public, but they also make maintenance easier, he said.

While the new Lakeshore Trail is open to bicyclists, Hosking cautions that it is a technical biking trail. For hikers, he ranks the difficulty somewhere between six and eight, on a scale of one to 10.

The new two-mile-plus stretch is not the end of trails in the area. Currently, the Over the Hill Gang is working on another section of about two miles that will link the Lakeshore Trail with the Granite Creek riparian area.

The Peavine Trail begins at the trailhead off Sundog Ranch Road, near the Yavapai Humane Society. To get there, users should take Highway 89, turn east onto Prescott Lakes Parkway, and then turn north onto Sundog Ranch Road.

Another trailhead is available at the north end, off Highway 89A, at the Side Road exit.