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New trail through Granite Dells a ‘living legacy’
Ecosa Institute, city partners in path near Willow Lake

Jessica Hernreich, executive director of Ecosa, stands along the route a new 0.8-mile trail near Willow Lake will follow. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

Jessica Hernreich, executive director of Ecosa, stands along the route a new 0.8-mile trail near Willow Lake will follow. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

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The planned trail will allow for the exploration of “undisturbed nature,” said Jessica Hernreich, executive director of Ecosa. (Cindy Barks/Courier)

The towering granite boulders and narrow gorges that once enthralled Old West movie star Tom Mix will soon be on display along a new public trail near Willow Lake.

A partnership between the City of Prescott and the Ecosa Institute will open up a scenic section of the Granite Dells area located west of Highway 89 and east of Willow Lake.

The new 0.8-mile trail will offer an out-and-back trek through the rugged terrain near where Mix filmed a number of his Western movies in the early 1900s.

Ecosa, which has a mission of “restoring health to the natural environment and thus the human environment through education in design,” acquired a 69-acre tract of Granite Dells land in 2014, with the intention of preserving the natural environment.

The long-term goal of Ecosa’s board is to place a conservation easement on 47 acres, ensuring that the natural area would never be developed, said Jessica Hernreich, executive director of Ecosa.

And soon, through a recently approved partnership with the city, a portion of the land will be opened to the public.

The planned trail will allow for the exploration of “undisturbed nature,” Hernreich said, adding, “The trail is our living legacy.”

In a unanimous action earlier this month, the Prescott City Council agreed to pay Ecosa $16,000 for the trail easement through a portion of the land.

The $16,000 will go toward Ecosa’s ongoing “Forever Dells” crowdfunding campaign to pay for the administration costs and legal protection of the conservation easement.

Prescott Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes told the City Council that city Trails and Natural Parklands Coordinator Chris Hosking has the trail alignment planned. “We’re ready to move on it,” he said.

Hosking said the new trail section would branch off the city’s established Basin Trail, which connects with the 5.7-mile Willow Lake Loop Trail that encircles the northeast-Prescott lake.

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Asa Björklund of Ecosa, left, and Jessica Hernreich, executive director of the organization, walk along the route that the new trail will follow. (Cindy Barks, Courier)

“It is right in the heart of the canyon,” Hosking said of the new trail site. He added that the trail would be just south of the old Tom Mix movie site.

The route will pass through narrow granite gorges and will cross the Willow Creek bed.

“It will be a very unique trail based on the technical terrain,” Hernreich said, noting that the trail would be open to hikers and advanced bikers.

The trail spur will feature interpretive signs that aim to educate the public on a number of topics that relate to Ecosa’s mission.

Baynes told the council that the signs would include information on related issues, such as: “What is smart growth? What is the local economic impact from outdoor recreation?”

Prior to the Feb. 12 vote, Councilwoman Billie Orr said, “We really appreciate this opportunity. This will be a nice addition to all of our trail systems, and certainly the education piece is really welcome.”

Councilman Jim Lamerson added that Ecosa “has been a really good partner in the city.”

Hosking said he and volunteers with the Over the Hill Gang trail-building group likely would begin on the new trail section within the next couple of months.

“We’ll get started as soon as the snow clears up and it dries out,” Hosking said Tuesday, Feb. 26. In some places, he said the trail work would require the construction of steps.

The public will be restricted to the trail route, and Hosking said signs would be set up along the route cautioning trail users not to trespass onto the surrounding land.

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