Photo caption: Recreation Services staff plants a tree for Arbor Day in 2016 as a partnership project with APS.
by Kelly Tolbert, Recreation Services Coordinator, Prescott Parks and Recreation
Relocating from Tucson, the original Parks and Recreation Director for the City of Prescott was a highly revered gentleman by the name of A.C. Williams. He started his position on Feb. 1, 1957, when the City officially maintained zero parks.
He previously worked as a teacher, coach, and athletic director at Flowing Wells High School. Due to his daughter’s asthma, the family moved in search of a better climate, with Williams intending to work in the parks and recreation industry for about a year then return to teaching. He retired from his directorship at the City at the end of 1983, having never returned to work in schools.
Ken Lindley Field was under the City’s jurisdiction; however, with limited funds for maintaining the area, the City leased the field to a nonprofit corporation to manage it. There was an interesting scenario in which the City wanted stadium lighting so the field could host high school football games and possibly minor league baseball. Unfortunately, the City lacked funding, so officials approached approximately 100 businessmen to pledge $100 each, which led to leasing the field to the nonprofit. The hope was that once revenues began to flow from the use of the field, the City would pay back the investors.
Upon A.C.’s arrival, the City still had not been successful in paying back the funds used to install the stadium lights at Ken Lindley Field, which had been in place for about 10 years. His first challenge was to gain City Council agreement to start paying back the funds (amounting to a certain amount per year for four years), void the lease with the nonprofit organization, and return the field to the City’s jurisdiction.
His next accomplishment was to acquire the land that is now Roughrider Park, which was under the federal government’s jurisdiction. As momentum continued, the parks only grew and grew. A.C. always credited much of his success to his staff. According to Prescott Courier archives, upon his retirement, the park system included four softball complexes, 10 developed parks and three undeveloped parks.
During an interview with Courier staff regarding the director’s retirement, A.C. stated that his greatest accomplishment was the acquisition of land and the formal opening of Granite Creek Park, now named A.C. Williams Granite Creek Park. He was known to refer to the area as a “Central Park” in his vision for the area, and he gained the support of former City of Prescott Mayor Jerri Wagner.
Historically, the present day parklands served as stomping grounds for Santa Fe Railroad workers, with the train depot and the roundhouse in close proximity, making it a natural habitat for staff needing a place to pitch their tents.
The story goes that when asked, workers were told to go “down by the creek.” This was the start of the area becoming known as “Long Beach.” Consisting of makeshift homes, essentially a rundown shanty town, the 1950s and ‘60s saw many instances of litter, crime and overall unsanitary conditions along the creek. Although inhabitants of Prescott’s Long Beach claimed their respective areas as “home,” there were no water or sewer utilities, and many were said to use hand-dug wells.
Periodically, as they do, floods washed through the area making conditions worse. Clean-up efforts were underway prior to A.C.’s arrival in Prescott, and City officials had publicly stated they would not evict people from the area.
It was around this same time that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared Long Beach a flood plain, which prohibits anyone from incorporating utilities such as water and sewer. This also perpetuated clean-up efforts. Women’s groups took on the cause, walking along the creek to determine what structures were inhabited. Ones that were not occupied received orange stickers the women obtained from the Fire Department; then the Fire Department would come along and burn the empty structures.
One of the women’s groups was the Monday Club, of which former Mayor Wagner was an active member. She was also a valuable partner to A.C. Williams and his Recreation Services staff pursuing his vision for the future of Granite Creek Park. In 1977, Wagner and Williams were both honored for their efforts with American Society for Public Administration Outstanding Service Awards, the first time for two Prescott leaders to be honored in the same year.
The question of land ownership prompted Recreation Services staff to begin research that led to contacting 30 out of 35 landowners, many of whom were behind on their taxes and some who lived out of state. Appraising the land value was yet another challenge because the land was deemed to be a flood plain. Other buildable parcels were offered as trade (the City had various lots made available through the J.S. Acker Trust in the 1950s) and most of the residents living there were found homes by various community groups. Grant monies were also obtained to pay for lots. All homes were cleared from the area by 1967, an effort that took 10 to 15 years.
The entire Granite Creek Park project took almost 30 years from start to finish. A.C. felt that it was important to the community because at the time the only recreation opportunities available were in the Prescott National Forest and the Yavapai County Courthouse Plaza. Having 3-million acres of Forest Service land surrounding the city, he felt strongly that the area west of LaGuardia Bridge should also be developed. Totaling approximately 50 acres, the uniqueness of the trees, grass, and proximity to downtown are unique to A.C. Williams’ Granite Creek Park.
Former Mayor Wagoner was quoted in a 1999 Daily Courier article written by Cindy Barks as saying “I know it (Granite Creek Park) has its problems but nonetheless, it’s a treasure for the community.”
Improvements continue today, as the park boasts amenities such as a playground, horseshoe pits, volleyball net, pump track (technical mountain bike skills park maintained by Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance-PMBA), and the 0.5-mile walking track that now extends throughout the City to our greenways system.
Many thanks to the Sharlot Hall Archives (Ken Leja) and the Daily Courier archives (Cindy Barks) for their contributions to this article.