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Fri, Oct. 18

Many viewpoints: Willow Lake's new loop trail a hit with hikers - for different reasons

Cindy Barks/The Daily Courier<br>
At right, Linda Schmitt tops the hill on a recent hike led by the TrekAbout Walking Club. This week’s hike featured the new Willow Lake Loop Trail, which offers lake views and steep climbs over the rock formations of the Granite Dells.

Cindy Barks/The Daily Courier<br> At right, Linda Schmitt tops the hill on a recent hike led by the TrekAbout Walking Club. This week’s hike featured the new Willow Lake Loop Trail, which offers lake views and steep climbs over the rock formations of the Granite Dells.

PRESCOTT - Between the unique rock formations and the panoramic views, members of the TrekAbout Walking Club were split this week on the best attributes of a new loop trail at Willow Lake.

"I liked the views and the rocks," hiker Linda Schmitt said as she completed an hour-long trek that took the group over massive granite formations to several lake overlooks.

The newly finished trail segment is a part of a 5.7-mile loop that now circles Willow Lake. Although trails have been in place at the city-owned lake for years, the new section fills in a three-quarter-mile gap, allowing users to do a loop rather than an out-and-back hike.

Along with closing the gap, the new trail offers several small side-loops, which take users into the granite rocks via a white-dot-marked route.

As the group of hikers topped a rock formation on one of the side-loop trails Tuesday morning, the view of the Willow Lake dam was spread before them.

"You will see a lot of views of the dam on this hike," Prescott Trail Specialist Chris Hosking said as he led the morning hike.

For Hosking, the completion of the trail achieves a long-time goal of having loops encircling both of Prescott's Granite Dells-area lakes. Earlier this summer, the city opened the other loop - the picturesque Watson Lake Loop Trail.

"We now have the Watson and Willow loops, and I'm just thrilled that we got them both," Hosking said.

The Over the Hill Gang, a group of volunteers dedicated to expanding the community's trail options, did much of the work for both loops.

George Sheats of the Over the Hills Gang estimated that nearly three months of work went into the completion of the Willow Lake Loop Trail. That work included the construction of about 80 stairs that take hikers on a steep climb from below the dam to a nearby high point.

Sheats, who has worked on trails throughout the community, said he likes the Willow Lake Loop because of its versatility.

"It has a wide variety of views - either within the wooded area, or the lake and granite formations," he said. "It has unique features in terms of rock formations."

Hosking stressed that the Willow Lake loop will be a seasonal trail, because a portion of it skirts the shallow lake bed (the East Bay Trail segment), which at times is filled with water.

"I encourage people to use the trail while it's still there," Hosking said, explaining that an all-season loop trail was not possible on available city-owned land.

After water levels rise and fall, Hosking said the trail should be salvageable with little additional work.

Along with the Over the Hill Gang's work, Hosking said the Willow Lake trail also had help from the City of Prescott Community Restitution Program and the Yavapai County Juvenile Probation Program.

Overall, the city's open space now features about 17 miles of the "white dot" trails that guide hikers and cyclists over the area's granite rocks. About seven of those miles are in the Willow Lake area, Hosking said, including the two miles of new trail.

Hiker George Shriver stressed the progress that the city has made during the 12 years he has been a member of the TrekAbout group.

"The additional trails that Chris has added have made a big difference," Shriver said.

Added fellow hiker Bud Kofron: "We're very fortunate in Prescott to have this variety of trails in the area."

Users can access the Willow Lake Loop at a number of locations, including a dirt parking area on Willow Lake Road, the Willow Creek Park (near the dog park), and the Willow Lake Park.

A map of the Willow Lake Loop Trail is available online at www.cityofprescott.net/_d/willow_watson_trails.pdf.

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