Obstacles no match for volunteers forging Watson Lake loop trail (With Video)
Originally Published: April 27, 2012 12:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT - The large boulder was squarely in the middle of the trail route and obviously needed to be dislodged.A half-dozen volunteers, wielding digging bars, strained against the boulder, wedging smaller rocks underneath, working it toward the ledge.The rock teetered, but moved only slightly.After several unsuccessful tries, workers brought out an electric winch and looped cables around a larger rock to gain leverage. Within minutes, the pesky boulder was tumbling into a ravine.The sense of accomplishment was only momentary, however. Just up the trail, another battle against a boulder was under way. Again, volunteer elbow grease, aided by an electric winch, helped to clear the route for the new trail.So it goes for the Over the Hill Gang volunteers, who are currently working on a 0.6-mile stretch of new trail at Watson Lake.Just over the past several weeks, Prescott Trails Specialist Chris Hosking estimates that workers moved about 50 tons of boulders to make way for the new trail.By the time they finish the new segment, the Over the Hill Gang will have accomplished a long-awaited goal: the completion of a 5-mile loop around Watson Lake.The new section will link the area near the Watson Lake dam with trails near the old boat ramp and ramada off Highway 89 and Willow Lake Road. It will complete the circle that already includes popular sections of the Peavine, the Lakeshore, the Over the Hill, the Discovery, the Flume, and the Explorer trails.Along with providing a convenient loop for trail users, the new segment also will open up plenty of previously inaccessible lakeside scenery.Flanked by imposing walls of granite on one side and the blue waters of Watson Lake on the other, the route is a natural."People have been walking through here for hundreds of years," Hosking said Monday as he made his way over a striking rock ledge that edges the lake.Although traces of social trails still are visible in the area, the land is privately owned, and required a license agreement with the City of Prescott to make it public. The City Council approved the agreement with owners Charles and Margaret Horsley in late March. The ongoing trail work will formalize the route.The trail work got under way several weeks ago, and Hosking expects it to be complete within about two months. Along with the removal of scores of boulders, the job also will require the construction of at least two bridges.Certainly, the task does not lack in enthusiasm. Nearly 20 people turned out Monday morning to help with various tasks, ranging from moving boulders to clearing debris off the newly formed trail.George Sheats, an Over the Hill Gang mainstay for the past four years, said the group has grown steadily over the years. Currently, it includes a roster of about 55 volunteers, many of whom show up regularly for the weekly work details.Andrew Claus, who was among the Monday volunteers, said his own outdoor interests led him to help with the local trail construction."I've done a lot of hiking," said Claus, who noted that his past ventures had included hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.Over the Hill Gang newcomer Mark Carpenter also traces his interest in volunteering to his love of the outdoors."My wife and I are volunteer park rangers (with the City of Prescott Parks and Recreation) also," Carpenter said as he took a break along the trail route Monday morning. "We hike a lot, and we enjoy the trails so much."While Monday's group included a variety of ages ranging from the late 20s through about 80, Sheats said the bulk of the volunteers are retirees in their 60s or 70s.The group dates back to about 1998, Sheats said, when volunteers got together to help remove the railroad ties from the Peavine Trail.The group has had many accomplishments over the years. Among them: the Prescott Lakes trails; Butte Creek and Aspen Creek reroutes; the Lakeshore, Over the Hill, Discovery, and Explorer trails; rodeo grounds trails; the new Centennial Trails; the Willow Lake slickrock trails; the Willow Lake Dam trails; the Constellation trail; Embry-Riddle trail improvements; Pioneer Park upgrades; Greenways trails; and the Peavine extension to the Granite Creek trestle.