THE POWER OF WATER: Shoreside trail boosts hiking, fishing appeal at Watson Lake
PRESCOTT - For Scottsdale residents Lori and Todd Freeman, the new path skirting the Watson Lake shoreline offered a somewhat rare Arizona opportunity: an up-close encounter with a body of water.
"The hiking around water - coming from the Valley - is unique," Todd Freeman said this week as he and his wife walked the half-mile section of Watson Lake trail that the Over the Hill Gang volunteers and city parks and recreation workers recently completed.
The Freemans, who were among a half-dozen or so hikers on the Lakeside/Fishing Trail Thursday morning, said they were checking out several of the area trails during their stay at the Prescott Resort.
"We hiked Goldwater Lake yesterday," Freeman said. "Prescott has a tremendous amount to offer. There are definitely awesome views."
As a new section of the 4.7-mile Watson Lake Loop Trail, city officials expect the Lakeside trail to get heavy traffic by hikers.
"I think this will be one of our most popular trails," city trails specialist Chris Hosking said, noting that the views of the lake's granite-rock formations, as well as the easy access from the main Watson Lake parking lot, likely would attract plenty of sightseers.
But Hosking and Parks and Recreation Assistant Superintendent Steve Mancha say the real beauty of the new trail section may lie in its benefits to the fishermen who frequent the Watson Lake shore.
Conceived as a "fishing trail," the Lakeside section dips often to within a few feet of the water's edge.
Before the trail construction, Mancha said fishermen had a difficult time getting close enough to cast their lines. "It was nip and tuck, and there were a lot of hazards," he said.
Karen Mason Sheats, a volunteer with the Over the Hill Gang, agreed. "I noticed a lot of people fishing along here, and a lot of them had their kids with them," she said Thursday as she used a pick to define the edges of the new trail.
The area was so precarious, Mancha said, that when he and Hosking first walked the route, "I didn't think (the trail) could be done."
The Over the Hill Gang volunteers spent weeks building the rock walls that support the narrow trail, Hosking said.
Mancha, who makes frequent visits to the lake, said the weekends often attract as many as 50 fishermen along the Watson Lake shore. Many are catching trout of about seven to 12 inches, he said.
Eric Smith, special projects administrator of the city, noted that the Arizona Game and Fish regularly stocks the lake with trout from November through March. The last stocking of the season occurred recently, he said.
Along with trout, recent Game and Fish surveys have shown a strong presence of largemouth bass in Watson Lake.
In a September 2011 sampling, Game and Fish used an electric current to stun 393 total fish in Watson. About 285 of the total were largemouth bass, while 71 were golden shiner, 22 were green sunfish, eight were yellow bullheads, and six were black crappie Smith said the lake's largemouth bass and crappie populations reproduce on their own, and have not been stocked in years.
In wet years, the city opens the "cross-cut ditch" that directs overflow water from Watson Lake to Willow Lake. While stocking does not occur at Willow, Smith said fish likely travel there from Watson through the ditch.
An April 2011 sampling in Willow Lake showed that Game and Fish had counted 21 largemouth bass, seven green sunfish, two black bullheads, and one bluegill.
The cross-cut ditch is opened only when Watson Lake is full to its "spillway elevation" and is overflowing, Smith said. This year, the ditch has been open for the past five or six weeks.
The new trail section begins at the main Watson Lake parking lot (off Highway 89), near the disc golf kiosk. It connects with the Watson Lake Loop Trail that the city completed this past year.
Work on the trail wrapped up three or four weeks ago, and the city installed the signs about a week ago.
An updated map of the Watson Lake Loop Trail is available online at www.prescotttrails.com.