by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Coordinator, Prescott Parks and Recreation
Yet another treasure found within the City of Prescott, the Community Nature Center combines history with nature. Located at 1980 Williamson Valley Road, across from Granite Mountain School, this 18-acre preserve surely offers something for everyone.
Formerly the location of the Highlands Center for Natural History, the property was originally established by the Prescott Unified School District in 1974 under the leadership of Dr. Henry Dahlberg, who served as director of the school district from 1974-1977. The preserve offers many features, but one of the first most noticeable is the quaint log cabin. As indicated on one of the many informational signs that can be found throughout the center, the cabin was built in the summer of 1975. Funding was provided by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Northern Arizona Council of Governments’ (NACOG) Youth Employment Program. The plaque also includes contributors such as Mike Barnes, construction supervisor, and high school students Steve Campbell, Dave Gabaldon, Angel Henrie, Ron Saenz and Angie Serna. Masonry work is credited to Joe Culhane.
Following the City of Prescott timeline on Open Space, policymakers first enacted a formal policy in 1999. In this, it states that “Prescott’s Open Space Program seeks to promote quality of life for the citizens of Prescott by preserving and protecting the natural environment that has given this city much of its character.” It goes on to describe many of the characteristics that the Community Nature Center still embodies today, such as native flora and fauna. Preservation of this site has not been without labor, and in many cases labor of love for the land.
Funding for open space, which is how the purchase of the Community Nature Center was possible, comes from a 1-percent sales tax designated for open-space acquisition. This tax was approved under the consideration of the future of Prescott, its growth and maintaining “harmony between physical development and the natural environment for the benefit for all Prescott citizens.” (Additional information on the City of Prescott’s Open Space Policy can be found at prescott-az.gov/documents) The Community Nature Center was officially purchased in 2006 from the Prescott Unified School District for $1,813,512, and included all 18 acres.
Remaining consistent with open space policies, the Nature Center remains preserved in a manner with low-impact public use. Built in 2012, the preserve offers a 1.5-mile trail that allows vistas of nearby mountain peaks, large granite boulders and centuries-old grasslands. Also characterizing the area is pinyon pines, junipers, and scrub oaks, native plant species and various animal and bird species. In addition to the log cabin, a Hardyville Road exhibit depicts Prescott’s history.
In more recent years, some of the original visionaries for the property have become reacquainted with caretaking and maintaining the historic site in partnership with the city. Master gardeners have assisted with installing more native plant species, along with interpretive signage (41 total signed plants); a small pond has been installed to attract bird species and other roaming wildlife, as well as water seeking plants. While hiking the trail along the road, you will come across a water pump, so feel free to get it going in order for the wildlife to take a drink! A simple rain garden can also be found onsite, harvesting the rooftop runoff from the 500-square-foot log cabin connected to pipes that run underground into one end of the habitat garden. This garden contains over 25 named species of native plants chosen for drought resistance and ability to attract pollinators. Instructions on how to construct your own rain garden and natural habitat are made available while you’re onsite or can also be found online.
One of the notable attractions while visiting this unique site is the availability of Signs of the Month, nature guides written for most all months, available at the Nature Center Kiosk onsite or online at http://www.cityofprescott.net/services/parks/parks/index.php?id=27. Upon entering the Community Nature Center, be sure to grab the current guide and begin your self-guided tour of this magical place. These informative guides include types of leaves to look out for, as many are indicative of what Mother Nature has in mind at that current time of year. If bird watching is your interest, you can return each month to observe either migrating visitors or resident varieties.
Again, wherever your interests take you, the Community Nature Center features something wonderfully appealing to all. Open to the public all year long, hours are 7 a.m. to sunset. Parking is complimentary. Visitors include large groups from schools and other organizations, so it is preferable to make reservations with the Recreation Services Department for groups of 10 or more. To do so, please call 928-777-1122.