Originally Published: September 13, 2013 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - Henry Dahlberg and Nichole Trushell were no strangers to the old Community Nature Center as they walked the site this week.
"This is back to the future, as far as I'm concerned," Dahlberg said.
After being active in the creation of the Nature Center nearly 40 years ago, Dahlberg is back as a volunteer, helping the City of Prescott rejuvenate the site.
Trushell, who has a strong connection of her own as the former director of the Nature Center, is also involved with the effort.
The two met up at the Williamson Valley Road-area center on Wednesday to walk the land with Chris Hosking, trails specialist for the City of Prescott.
They see the parcel as coming full circle - from its start as a spot where schoolchildren could learn about nature, to its current status as a city-owned space where the entire community can enjoy the natural surroundings.
On Saturday, the newly improved center will be on display. A city news release urges the community to "rediscover Prescott's hidden treasure" during a special celebration at the center.
Beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, the event will feature birding walks, music on the cabin porch, naturalist walks, talks about the center's habitat gardens and ethnobotany, and self-guided tours. (Specific times are available online at www.prescotttrails.com).
Hosking said the event would showcase recent work that has occurred at the center. For instance, the pond that long served as the centerpiece of the property has been restored. Now containing about a foot of water, it again provides a water source for wildlife and surrounding vegetation.
Hosking attributes the pond restoration to a cooperative effort involving the city, community service workers, Over the Hill Gang volunteers, Prescott College,
AmeriCorps, and Fann Environmental, which donated a liner.
"This has been a great story of cooperation between the city and volunteers," Dahlberg said. In fact, he said, cooperation has been the center's byword from the start.
Posted on the porch of the Nature Center's log cabin is an April 1976 Prescott Courier article, recounting the early beginnings of the center. "45 local groups help with Nature Center," states the headline.
Dahlberg, who was a teacher at Prescott High School at the time, said Prescott Unified School District (PUSD) bought the land near the corner of Iron Springs and Williamson Valley for future school sites.
The district ultimately built Granite Mountain Middle School and Abia Judd Elementary there, but deemed the 18 acres just north of the middle school as "unbuildable," Dahlberg said.
Although school officials considered selling off the remaining acreage, Dahlberg said PUSD Superintendent Ken Walker pushed for preservation. "He said, 'this would make a beautiful nature center,'" Dahlberg said.
Central to the plans was the construction of a traditional log cabin to serve as visitor center. Guided by instructions from Foxfire magazine, Dahlberg and a group of students and volunteers built the cabin that still sits at the entrance to the center.
Through the years, the center served as an outdoor classroom for countless local schoolchildren. Trushell recalls taking second- and fourth-graders through the property, conducting puppet shows from behind boulders, and using the outdoor amphitheater for storytelling.
Lessons also focused on the more than 230 plant species that grow naturally in the area.
The Nature Center ultimately evolved into the Highland Center for Natural History, and moved to a new site near Lynx Lake. In 2006, the City of Prescott used $1.8 million of revenue from its streets/open space sales tax to buy the old Nature Center parcel.
The Nature Center is located at 1980 Williamson Valley Road. Public access is near the Granite Mountain Middle School parking lot. The center is open daily from dawn until dusk.
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