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Fri, Oct. 18

Picturesque new trail loops Watson Lake

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br>
Michele Zanolin, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, hikes the Watson Lake Trail Thursday.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br> Michele Zanolin, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, hikes the Watson Lake Trail Thursday.

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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