Granite Creek in Prescott: Working for Wildlife

Walt Anderson, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies, Prescott College

By Walt Anderson

Wood Duck, Granite Creek, Prescott AZ, courtesy Walt Anderson

Prescott’s creeks suffered from many years of human abuse, but the trend since 1995 has been toward better protection and management. Wildlife populations along the creek, including spectacular waterfowl like Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers, have rebounded significantly, but development threats to Granite Creek and the spectacular landscape of Granite Dells have awakened citizen efforts to save as much as possible of the remaining wildlife habitat. The entire community—people and wildlife alike—stands to benefit.

The City of Prescott lies in a bowl formed by the Bradshaw Mountains and Sierra Prieta. A half-dozen small creeks running through the city converge into Granite Creek, which is impounded as Watson Lake as it leaves the City. Below the dam, the creek winds through the spectacular rock formations of Granite Dells. Then it descends into valley alluvium until it reappears at the surface just above its confluence with the headwaters of the Verde River.

Wood Duck, drake, reflections, courtesy Walt Anderson

As was typical during early settlement days, the creeks became the dumping grounds, industrial sites, and sewage drains, but gradually, the perceived value of the creeks rose with better understanding of both health/safety issues and aesthetics. In 1995 the City of Prescott and the non-profit Prescott Creeks established a 126-acre preserve known as Watson Woods in what had been a highly altered floodplain used for gravel extractions and garbage-dumping just upstream and south of Watson Lake Reservoir. Passive and active restoration efforts have resulted in amazing recovery of riparian woodland and marshland, and in 2011, this area was recognized as part of the Watson and Willow Lakes Ecosystem Important Bird Area (IBA). It is an impressive example of how a highly degraded area can become prized “natural area” benefiting people and wildlife alike.

Downstream from Watson Woods, the large reservoir provides abundant outdoor recreation and waterfowl habitat. The abundance of water birds and introduced fish attracts species high on the food web, including Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, and White Pelican. The creek itself supports several pairs of the rare Common Black Hawk, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos have nested there.

Watson Lake meets Watson Woods, autumn, courtesy Walt Anderson

Two of the region’s most colorful duck species occur here: the Wood Duck and the Hooded Merganser. The intensely colorful Wood Duck is a rare breeder in Arizona, mainly nesting here on Granite Creek and in parts of the Verde Valley. It is a year-round resident, at times gathering in small flocks of up to 50 birds but often in small parties along the creek. At times the birds move to Watson or Willow Lakes, but most of the time, they occur in the wooded riparian areas.

The Hooded Merganser is a wintering migrant, spending time here between October and April, then nesting in northern states and southern Canada. They are more likely to be seen on open lake waters, but they frequent Granite Creek at times, their own colorful patterns rivaling those of the Wood Ducks.

Hooded Merganser, hen, courtesy Walt Anderson

Deer, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, and other mammals thrive along the creek, and both resident and migratory birds are well-served by the healthy riparian community that has returned after decades of abuse. Many birds rare in Arizona have been sighted in this riparian oasis.

So while we celebrate the return of wildlife in the once-destroyed Watson Woods area, we are mindful that the integrity of riparian areas downstream from the dam and in valleys within the Granite Dells could be severely compromised without immediate attention to protection and management. Fragmentation of habitat, as so often occurs with poorly planned development, is a major threat to wildlife populations.

Hooded Merganser, drake, courtesy Walt Anderson

It has been said that a landscape without wildlife is mere scenery. Today, people hiking, biking, and horseback riding on existing trails around Granite Creek and the Dells are often treated to wonderful wildlife sightings, and there is no doubt that wildlife contributes to high-quality recreational experiences.

Watson Lake meets Watson Woods, autumn, courtesy Walt Anderson

Prescott is growing rapidly, and development is putting pressure on remaining unspoiled lands. While the City has an excellent trails system, there is potential for creating a much larger interconnected public open space system, which proponents, such as the non-profit Granite Dells Preservation Foundation, are envisioning as a Granite Dells Regional Park. This would include accessible developed sites such as at Watson and Willow Lakes, as well as wild peaks and valleys in the one-of-a-kind Granite Dells ecosystem, which the City already touts as its top scenic natural attraction. This vision could be accomplished through land-use zoning for functional open space in planned area developments and also through fund-raising for additional land acquisition. Success will depend a great deal on winning the support of City Council members, whose decisions will ultimately determine what kind of city will result.

Walt Anderson

Walt Anderson taught classes (including Wetland Ecology & Management, Wildlife Management, and Natural History & Ecology of the Southwest) at Prescott College for 27 years. He is a wildlife artist, photographer, and international expedition guide who devotes a large share of his time to conservation issues, including serving with the Granite Dells Preservation Foundation.

Water/Ways Exhibit

Behind the Scenes: Launching Water/Ways in Bisbee

Water/Ways Bisbee Install

Water/Ways, a Smithsonian Museum on Main Street traveling exhibit, made its Arizona debut at the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum on June 2. The grand opening was seamless, but that smooth launch depended on a lot of work behind the scenes.

Planning teams from future host sites Fort Apache, Miami, Florence, Sierra Vista, Dragoon, and Black Canyon City spent two days learning how to set the exhibit up in their towns by helping the museum staff do it in Bisbee. “We were fortunate to be the first site to host Water/Ways in the state,” says Museum Director Carrie Gustavson. “We had about twenty people to help us unload and install the exhibit!”

Planning for the installation actually began days before the helpers arrived. “The exhibit comprises five modular units of three different sizes, the largest thirteen-plus feet in length,” says Gustavson. “Although measurements were printed in the Water/Ways Local Coordinator Manual, laying out the actual panels was a very enlightening experience.”

Water/Ways Bisbee InstallLuckily, the museum had expert help. Carol Harsh is Director of Museum on Main Street, a division of the Smithsonian that curates high-quality traveling exhibits for rural communities. Harsh came to Bisbee with a vinyl “footprint” of the Water/Ways exhibit unit bases. “We spent several hours playing with the footprint to make it work the evening before the install workshop,” Gustavson recalls. The tall, undulating exhibit units had to fit into two antique rooms that have elegant high ceilings, but are not exactly spacious. “Carol and I kept sliding the vinyl pieces around the floor, then breaking down laughing at some of the odd configurations we came up with. However, the smart, modular design of the exhibit counters the panel sizes so it will work in all kinds of funky spaces, such as ours here in Bisbee.”

Water/Ways Bisbee InstallThe installation days were a flurry of activity. Some volunteers wheeled large black crates from the storage basement of a shopping arcade, pushed them across a bumpy road, and guided them into a side door of the museum. Others unpacked the carefully numbered rails, panels and placards and put them together with guidance from the installation handbook. With so many eager people helping, there were only a few hiccups during the assembly. The exhibit’s moving parts required extra time to attach to the panels, and a few leftover bolts and knobs inspired some nervous laughter when everything was assembled. Most team members, though, were surprised that the units came together so easily. As afternoon light streamed through the high windows and illuminated the tall panels, team members congratulated each other and marveled at the immersive beauty of the exhibit.

Gustavson and her staff in Bisbee have some advice for future Water/Ways host sites.

  • Get serious about setup. “Take advantage of the vinyl footprint before you even begin unloading. The shipping crates are keyed to each modular unit so you can build the exhibit in the order that best suits your space.”
  • Start recruiting reliable volunteers well before delivery and installation. “Get a lot of people to help you–pushing around and unloading twenty giant crates is a lot of work!”
  • Consider not just the space where the exhibit will be set up, but the terrain around the exhibit and storage sites. “The crates push easily on smooth flat surfaces,” Gustavson advises, “but if your community is anything like mine, smooth flat surfaces are a rarity.”

Water/Ways will be in Bisbee until July 15, then will travel to Fort Apache where it opens on July 28. The exhibit will visit ten more rural communities in Arizona through March 2020. For the complete tour schedule and everything you ever wanted to know about Arizona water, visit the Water/Ways Arizona web site at Congratulations to the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, the volunteer installation team, and the community of Bisbee on the successful Arizona grand opening of Water/Ways!

Water/Ways Install team poses with the Water/Ways Week Proclamation from Governor Doug Ducey

Water/Ways Install team poses with the Water/Ways Week Proclamation from Governor Doug Ducey

Governor Proclamation for Water/Ways Week

As part of the kickoff to the Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit’s arrival in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey has issued an official proclamation declaring June 2 – 8 as Water/Ways Week.

June 2 marks the official opening of Water/Ways at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. The exhibit will travel to 12 rural communities across the state through March 2020. Bisbee has planned a unique calendar of free programs during the exhibit that encourages visitors to learn, discuss, and reflect on water stories in the community.

Check out the proclamation below, and then explore the Water/Ways website for water stories, resources, and upcoming programs.

Limited Edition Water/Ways Coloring Books

Arizona Humanities created a "Water is Life" coloring book to complement the Water/Ways exhibit. The coloring book presents the water stories of the 12 communities hosting the exhibit. Each site collected unique stories and artifacts from their respective communities. The result was an array of drawings, historical photos, paintings, and poems. Artist Isaac Caruso transformed these into colorable illustrations. Isaac is an illustrator, graphic designer, creative director and muralist born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. The coloring book's front and back covers represent the vibrant and rich history of water in Arizona. Explore the stories of the 12 Water/Ways communities!

We invite you to pick up a limited edition coloring book at the Water/Ways host sites, starting in Bisbee on June 2. For a full schedule of exhibit sites, visit the Host Sites page.

Read more about Isaac and download the printable coloring book pages.

Smithsonian traveling exhibit to make a splash in Arizona

Water/Ways exhibit will travel to 12 rural communities across Arizona

From above, the Earth appears as a planet with more than 71 percent of its surface covered with the most vital resource for life…water. Water impacts climate, agriculture, transportation, industry and more. It inspires art, music and literature. Arizona has just experienced a historically dry winter, and water is on our minds more than ever. What can we do now to secure water for future generations? The Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibit “Water/Ways” explores the past, present, and future of water on our planet.

Presented by Arizona Humanities and Arizona State University, this compelling Water/Ways exhibit will travel to twelve Arizona communities from June 2018 through March 2020. The itinerary is available below and online at the new Water/Ways website: Water/Ways explores water’s environmental and cultural impact in Arizona and beyond. The exhibit brings people together to learn about water’s impact on American culture.  Each town will offer a variety of talks, films, programs and educational activities that teach people about the importance of water in our own communities, and in the world.

The Water/Ways host communities each have complex and unique water stories to tell. The exhibit opens in Bisbee, Arizona on June 2. Did you know that during the late 1800s and early 1900s Bisbee’s copper smelters depleted groundwater? This caused wells to go dry. Fresh water was then retrieved from several miles away, loaded into canvas sacks, and transported to the booming mining town by burro. Winkelman and nearby communities southeast of Phoenix are famous for their mining history, but few Arizonans know that Aravaipa Creek and the San Pedro and Gila Rivers provided a rich foundation for small-scale agriculture in the area, a tradition that the Copper Corridor hopes to revive in the form of farmer’s markets specializing in local products. Did you know that the Verde River, one of only two “Wild and Scenic” waterways in Arizona, was once called “the Dirty Verde”? Most Arizonans know that Lake Havasu City is home to the authentic London Bridge, but fewer know that the reservoir created by construction of the Parker Dam in 1938, supplies billions of gallons of water daily to destinations in Southern California and central Arizona.

All Water/Ways programs and events are free and open to the public. Families, children and adults of all ages are welcome. You can follow the conversation online at #waterwaysAZ and #thinkwater. The Water/Ways website (www.azhumanities/waterwaysaz) lists information about each host community, upcoming water programs, resources, and educational curriculum for teachers and students, from the ASU Decision Center for Desert City.

Brenda Thomson, Executive Director of Arizona Humanities, salutes ASU and the many contributors to this ambitious undertaking.  “The Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit should not be missed. By partnering with ASU we have been able to double the number of communities that will be able to experience this world class exhibit. We expect 30,000 visitors to come to events across the state. Many visitors travel to multiple exhibit locations. They want to see mining towns, the Hoover Dam, valleys, rivers and museums. It’s an opportunity to see and learn things about water you never knew before.”

ASU Professor Dr. Paul Hirt is the State Scholar for Water/Ways . Hirt led the ASU Public History Lab. Prof. Hirt and ASU graduate students helped the host communities capture the complex ways in which water shapes history, settlement, environment, ethics, and culture in Arizona.  Hirt observed “Access to clean, affordable water in the desert southwest will become ever more critical to a sustainable and just future as we face continued population growth and a warming, drying climate. Sharing our water values and concerns through public programs like Water/Ways may help us face our future challenges cooperatively and with empathy rather than through misunderstanding and conflict.”

Water/Ways is made possible by support from Arizona Humanities, and the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. Water/Ways is sponsored by the Salt River Project, Nestlé Waters North America, the American Slavic Association, and Chaos RX Optics. The ASU Decision Center for Desert City Rural Arizona Water Education project is supported by a grant from the Ellis Center for Educational Excellence of the Arizona Community Foundation and the National Science Foundation. To learn more, please visit or call Arizona Humanities at 602-257-0335.

Read the full press release here.

Water – Use It Wisely blog features Water/Ways exhibit

Courtesy Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum

Water – Use It Wisely, the popular water conservation website recently featured water stories from the Arizona Water/Ways exhibit.

Read about celebrating Arizona water stories, and get a preview of the exhibit.
Water – Use It Wisely offers tons of free resources, from 100+ ways to conserve water, water-saving products, games for kids, education materials for teachers, water-wise events and more.

Join Navigating Waters and explore water in Arizona communities

Navigating Waters: A program series exploring water in Arizona communities

The Smithsonian traveling exhibition Water/Ways launches on June 2 in Bisbee. Arizona Humanities will feature many FREE events, programs and activities about water at locations across Arizona. Check our website for programs near you.

MidTown Watershed Project: Part 1 

Saturday, March 17
8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

with Flowers and Bullets Tucson
Julia Keen School – Tucson, AZ 85713

Join Luis Herrera, Jesus Romero, and Brandon Alexander from Flowers & Bullets (F&B) for an interactive series on water harvesting, water education, and gardening workshops focused on water conservation.  Each workshop is conducted at the Midtown Farm site, which serves the Barrio Centro & Julia Keen communities and outlines a different approach to manage our watersheds while educating community members on water conservation. F&B uses the newly acquired 9.5 acre Midtown Farm as an educational site that has a potential impact on the water aquifers of Southern Arizona. Part 1 will focus on the importance, history, social context and science of water harvesting. Participants will engage in the plans & process of the reconstruction of an on-site Ramada, soon to be outfitted with rain gutters and a cistern that leads to a greenhouse.

“Water in Arizona: Past, Present, Future” with Dr. Paul Hirt
Wednesday, April 18

7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Patagonia Public Library
342 Duquesne Ave, Patagonia, AZ 85624

Water is Arizona’s most precious resource. Yet few people know where their water comes from, who provides it, how its quality is assured, or how secure future water supplies are for Arizona’s 6 million residents. We face very serious water supply sustainability challenges in the coming decades as the state continues to grow and the climate becomes warmer and drier. When there is a shortage, who has priority? Who makes these critical decisions about our water future? ASU Professor of History and Sustainability Paul Hirt takes us on a bird’s eye view of the past, present, and future of water in Arizona. Hirt is the state scholar for the Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibition.

AZ H20 + Art with Jim Ballinger
Tuesday, April 24
6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Taliesin West
12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, AZ 85259
Hoover Dam is an iconic marvel of American engineering. Created to manage the floodwaters of the Colorado River, the dam continues to affect Arizonans’ lives daily. But the Hoover dam is rarely thought of as a significant work of art. Since artists first visited our region, water has been a subject for their work, ranging from rivers and lakes to dams, agriculture and recreation. This program will explore works of art created over the past 150 years, and invite participants to discuss the various ways water is systemic to life in the Arizona deserts, mountains and the Colorado Plateau. In collaboration with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

MidTown Watershed Project: Part 2
Saturday May 5

8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
with Flowers and Bullets Tucson
Julia Keen School – Tucson, AZ 85713

Join Luis Herrera, Jesus Romero, and Brandon Alexander from Flowers & Bullets (F&B) for an interactive series of water harvesting, water education, and gardening workshops focused on water conservation at the Midtown Farm site, which serves the Barrio Centro & Julia Keen communities. Each workshop outlines a different approach to manage our watershed and to educate our community members on water conservation. Part 2 will focus on the history, cultural relevance and science of monsoon planting by explaining the use of particular water slopes, basins, and swells along the south west side of the site which will help with the conservation of water.

About Water/Ways
Arizona Humanities and the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives and School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University are excited to bring an exclusive Arizona tour of Water/Ways, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition arrives in Arizona June 2018 and will travel to 12 rural communities through March 2020.

Water/Ways is coming to Arizona!

Twelve communities selected to host the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways traveling exhibit
Sites Will Host Traveling Exhibition Exploring Water’s Environmental and Cultural Impact

Arizona Humanities and the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives and School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University are excited to announce twelve Arizona rural communities who will host the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition Water/Ways.  Water/Ways, is a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program, will be on view in Arizona June 2018 through April 2020. The exhibition and companion programming examine water as an environmental necessity and an important cultural element as well as community water stories.

The sites have been expressly chosen from a group of competitive applications by Arizona Humanities and ASU to host Water/Ways as part of the Museum on Main Street program—a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations.

Congratulations to the selected organizations, host sites, and cities:

Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum
Bisbee, AZ
Brought to you by the Bisbee Council on the Arts & Humanities
June 2 – July 15, 2018

Commanding Officer’s Quarters, Fort Apache and Theodore Roosevelt School National Historic Landmark
Fort Apache, AZ
Brought to you by the Fort Apache Heritage Foundation, Inc.
July 28 – September 9, 2018

Bullion Plaza Cultural Center and Museum
Miami, AZ
Brought to you by the Bullion Plaza Cultural Center and Museum
September 22 – November 4, 2018

McFarland State Historic Park
Florence, AZ
Brought to you by the Town of Florence
November 17 – December 30, 2018

Henry F. Hauser Museum
Sierra Vista, AZ
Brought to you by the City of Sierra Vista
January 12 – February 25, 2019

Amerind Museum
Dragoon, AZ
Brought to you by the Amerind Foundation, Inc.
March 9 – April 21, 2019

Central Arizona College – Aravaipa Campus
Winkelman, AZ
Brought to you by the Copper Corridor Economic Development Coalition
May 4 – June 16, 2019

Carl Hayden Visitor Center at Glen Canyon Dam
Page, AZ
Brought to you by the Glen Canyon Natural History Association
June 29 – August 11, 2019

Camp Verde Community Library
Camp Verde, AZ
Brought to you by the Friends of the Verde River Greenway
August 24 – October 6, 2019

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
Tubac, AZ
Brought to you by the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
October 19 – December 1, 2019

Cañon Elementary School District 50
Black Canyon City, AZ
Brought to you by the Black Canyon City Community Association – Black Canyon Heritage Park
December 14, 2019 – January 26, 2020

The Lake Havasu Museum of History
Lake Havasu City, AZ
Brought to you by the Lake Havasu City Historical Society
February 8 – March 22, 2020

Water/Ways explores the endless motion of the water cycle, water’s effect on landscape, settlement and migration, and its impact on culture and spirituality. It looks at political and economic efforts to ensure access to water, and explores how human creativity and resourcefulness provide new ways to protect water resources and renew our relationship with the natural environment.

Water/Ways is designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations; the exhibit will serve as a place to convene community conversations about water’s impact on American culture. With the support and guidance of staff at Arizona Humanities and scholars at Arizona State University, host sites will develop a locally produced companion exhibition and local programming to raise people’s understanding about water stories within their community.

The future of the commodity in the dry desert will be explored through historical documents and personal accounts.

“Access to clean, affordable water in the desert southwest will become ever more critical to a sustainable and just future as we face continued population growth and a warming, drying climate. Sharing our water values and concerns through public programs like Water/Ways may help us face our future challenges cooperatively and with empathy rather than through misunderstanding and conflict,” said Paul Hirt, State Scholar for Water/Ways and ASU Professor of History and Sustainability.

Water/Ways is part of the Smithsonian’s Think Water Initiative to raise awareness of water as a critical resource for life through exhibitions, educational resources and public programs. The public can participate in the conversation on social media at #thinkwater and #waterwaysAZ. Water/Ways is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.

To learn more about Water/Ways in Arizona, please visit or call Arizona Humanities at 602-257-0335.