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Prescott takes first step toward opening Lower Goldwater Lake to the public
Recreational amenities expected to be complete by February 2020

The scenic Lower Goldwater Lake, which has been closed to the public for decades, is expected to be opened for recreational uses within the next year or so. On Tuesday, March 12, the Prescott City Council approved a contract for the design of amenities including a day use ramada, restrooms, additional parking spaces, and a ceremony pad. (Cindy Barks/Courier, file)

The scenic Lower Goldwater Lake, which has been closed to the public for decades, is expected to be opened for recreational uses within the next year or so. On Tuesday, March 12, the Prescott City Council approved a contract for the design of amenities including a day use ramada, restrooms, additional parking spaces, and a ceremony pad. (Cindy Barks/Courier, file)

On warm summer days, Goldwater Lake’s cool pines are a big draw – both for local residents and tourists.

Oftentimes, though, that results in overflowing parking lots at the Senator Highway lake.

Even though the City of Prescott added 104 parking spaces to the popular Upper Goldwater Lake in 2013-14, Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes said that did not handle the demand.

“We quickly found that pretty much every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day, (visitors) park all the way out to Senator Highway,” Baynes said. “It’s just that popular. At 6,000 feet (elevation) in the ponderosa pines, it’s a great escape for people from the Valley, as well as our local citizens.”

Now, a project is getting underway on the largely unused Lower Goldwater Lake to ease the pressure at the popular upper lake.

If all goes as planned, improvements including additional parking spaces, restrooms, a fishing trail, a day-use ramada, and a ceremony pad could be complete within the year at the lower lake.

At its Tuesday, March 12, meeting, the Prescott City Council approved a $69,987 contract with Kelley/Wise Engineering for the design of the new park features.

Baynes said the city could be ready to go out for bids for the construction by about August 2019, with completion tentatively set for February 2020.

RICH HISTORY

The city purchased the property for the 160-acre Goldwater Lake between 1913 and 1915, Baynes said, adding that the lake was named Lake Goldwater in 1923 – in honor of early Prescott resident and long-time mayor Morris Goldwater.

“In 1932, a dam was built on (Banning) Creek with the intent of a domestic water supply primarily for the use of its citizens,” a city memo states, adding that a second dam was built in about 1935, creating the lower lake – located at the upper lake’s western edge.

The reservoirs continued to be used for a portion of the city’s water supply until about the 1970s. Then, in the late 1970s, the city built recreational improvements in the upper lake area.

UNUSED GEM

Still, the scenic lower lake remained mostly hidden and unused for decades. Baynes attributed that to the presence of an old water-treatment plant, which created an “attractive nuisance.” Over the years, no-trespassing signs were posted along the dirt road that runs north of the lake.

But after city workers took steps in recent years to remove the nuisance by razing the remaining buildings and filling in the old treatment-plant basins, $70,000 was included in the city’s current fiscal-year budget for the design of the recreational improvements.

Baynes said the cost for the construction is being proposed for the next fiscal-year budget, which will be discussed in the coming months. While the cost is tentatively estimated at $900,000, Baynes said one of the tasks of the design engineers is to come up with a more precise estimate.

The $70,000 for design is coming from the city’s bed tax fund (generated through a fee charged to customers of hotels, motels, and long-term rentals)

Because of the potential for drawing in visitors as well as locals, Baynes said the project “involves quality of life and also economic development from the visitation it would create.”

‘LIGHT HAND ON THE LAND’

The lower-lake park improvements are being planned to be low-impact, Baynes said.

“One of the things that is real important, I think, is to have a light hand on the land,” he said. “It’s about a 10-acre lake, and we don’t want to shove a bunch of people in there and have negative impacts.”

Along with the planned amenities, Baynes said the project would allow the connectivity needed for a trail around both lakes, which currently does not exist.

“It’s a long time coming that the lower lake gets open, since we don’t use it for the water supply anymore,” City Councilman Steve Blair said prior to the vote.

The council approved the design contract in a 6-0 vote, with Mayor Greg Mengarelli absent.

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