Originally Published: August 30, 2012 9:57 p.m.
PRESCOTT - The 20-year push for a recreational trail encircling Prescott took a leap forward this week.
In a 6-1 vote on Tuesday, the Prescott City Council agreed to put as much as $120,000 of its open space money toward the lease of 6.6 miles of trail easements through Arizona State Land Department property.
Assuming that a number of related tasks proceed successfully, the 6.6 miles would nearly complete the 50-mile Prescott Circle Trail that has been under way since the early 1990s.
In fact, Prescott Parks and Recreation Director Joe Baynes said the city likely could find a way to bypass the small remaining gap on private ranchland near the Pioneer Parkway/Williamson Valley intersection - a move that, in combination with the State Land lease, would complete the circle.
City officials say that would be good for the local tourism effort. Baynes pointed out that Prescott could market the trail as a multi-day hike through the community's most scenic areas, with campgrounds spaced conveniently along the way.
The trail features three prominent campgrounds: at Watson Lake, Granite Basin Lake, and White Spar.
Prescott Trails Specialist Chris Hosking estimates the distance between the Watson Lake and White Spar campgrounds at about 16.8 miles, while the hike from White Spar to Granite Basin would be about 18 miles. The Granite Basin-to-Watson Lake trek would add another 14 miles.
With this week's council approval, Baynes said the city can move on to necessary details such as archaeological/cultural and native plant surveys along the trail route, as well a real estate appraisal, and resolution of grazing issues.
Baynes said the city already reached an agreement earlier this week on a portion of the trail that previously was slated to run through the old Storm Ranch.
When the economic downturn temporarily derailed development plans on the ranchland, Baynes said the area continued to be used for cattle grazing. To skirt the grazing land, Baynes said the city has agreed that the trail would stay on the south side of Prescott Lakes Parkway, rather than going north through the old Storm land.
Later, if the ranchland does develop, Baynes said the city still could build the northern trail, following the terms of the existing development agreement.
If all of the other related tasks proceed smoothly, Baynes said, the construction of the new trail could begin by this winter.
"In general, we're off and running," Baynes said.
The 6.6 miles includes two sections of trail - one that would run from the Turley Trail in Government Canyon to the city's Peavine Trail near Watson Lake - and another section that would run from the Pioneer Parkway area to Trail 347 near Williamson Valley Road.
The proposed leases would be for a combination of 10-year and 50-year terms.
Ruben Ojeda of the Arizona State Land Department told the council that the 10-year leases would pertain to areas that have high development potential, while the 50-year leases would cover less-developable land.
That led to a question from Councilman Jim Lamerson about whether the city should put thousands of dollars into an easement that is not permanent.
"I have a little bit of a heartburn to ask the city to spend $120,000 for something they will never own," said Lamerson, who ultimately voted against the action.
But Baynes pointed out that the temporary easements would provide trail connectivity, and could eventually become part of the future development agreements for the land.
Councilman Chris Kuknyo added that having the trail on the property likely would be a valuable asset that future owners would want to preserve.
Ojeda agreed. "We find that trails do add value," he said.
Officials explained that the State Land Department manages its land to reach the highest use, and to optimize economic return for its trust beneficiaries - the largest of which is public education.
A pre-appraisal on the easements took place earlier this year and allowed the city to come up with the $120,000 figure. Baynes said about $60,000 to $80,000 of the total likely would go toward the easements, while the remainder would go for other related costs.
The first step will be the payment of a $1,200 "right of entry" fee to State Land, which will allow the city to do the necessary preparation work.
Meanwhile, the city also is waiting to hear the results of an International Mountain Biking Association application to the Arizona State Parks' Recreational Trail Program for a $100,000 grant to help build the 6.6 miles of new trails.
Baynes said that grant would expedite the construction of the new trail, which otherwise would have to be built with a combination of volunteer, community service, and city labor.
The existing Circle Trail includes about 11.3 miles within Prescott limits, while the remainder runs across U.S. Forest Service land, Bureau of Land Management land, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University land.