Several miles northeast of downtown Prescott, Arizona there is a rare and threatened forest type and it is being protected and restored by Prescott Creeks members and community volunteers!
The 126-acre Watson Woods Riparian Preserve is the remaining portion of what was once a 1,000-acre riparian (streamside) forest of cottonwood and willow trees. Following trends around the southwestern United States, the riparian habitat at Watson Woods had been lost or severely degraded as a result of decades of livestock grazing, illegal dumping, firewood cutting, and most notably, sand and gravel extraction during the mid-20th century. In spite of long term abuses to this area, it has been healing itself. Over the past 40 years most of the vegetation and wildlife now found at Watson Woods has returned on its own. Cottonwoods and willows that create a cathedral-like atmosphere over Granite Creek and the edge of a perennial pond provide habitat for a wide variety of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Since establishment of the Preserve in 1995, the City of Prescott has grown to the north and east, and Watson Woods Riparian Preserve has become a sort of oasis for wildlife and humans alike.
VISIT and EXPERIENCE
In addition to preservation and restoration activities, the Preserve is open for public use. A quiet visitor might encounter a green-backed heron fishing the pond, a Mexican vole scurrying along runways under the grasses, or a common kingsnake winding its way through the branches of a toppled cottonwood.
Plan your visit:
- Be knowledgeable about the Preserve Hours of Operation and Rules.
- Know what to bring with you on your visit.
- Get directions.
- Download the Watson Woods Riparian Preserve brochure.
MANAGEMENT and RESTORATION
In 1995 Prescott Creeks established Watson Woods Riparian Preserve to protect and restore the cottonwood/willow riparian gallery forest found there. A 25-year, renewable lease with the City of Prescott (owner of the property) ensures protection and authorizes Prescott Creeks to manage Watson Woods as a riparian nature preserve through the year 2020.
The Watson Woods Riparian Preserve Comprehensive Plan was developed in 1996 (with major funding from the Arizona Water Protection Fund Commission) to guide management and restoration work. This plan was designed with an adaptive management framework and identified four distinct program areas. They are:
Operation of the Preserve is carried out with an adaptive management philosophy that recognizes that information from one program area will affect management decisions over time. Integration of these programs will provide for effective and efficient management.
Inventory efforts were initially designed to establish baseline conditions about the physical and biological resources found at the Preserve. Monitoring activities are the measurement of specific parameters related to physical and biological resources over extended periods of time. Additionally monitoring is an essential tool in judging the degree to which various Preserve project goals have been achieved.
Restoration efforts at Watson Woods Riparian Preserve strive to establish a desired state of ecological equilibrium for the riparian ecosystem within the Preserve.
Education helps community members develop awareness and appreciation for the complex ecological systems found at Watson Woods Riparian Preserve and throughout the larger Granite Creek Watershed. Educational efforts at the Preserve take many forms. They include: interpretive education through signs along Preserve trails, guided walks and field trips for local students of all ages, and presentations and workshops for resource managers and policy makers.