The Prescott National Forest (PNF) manages large areas of the upper watershed of the Verde River as well as large amounts of land throughout the upper and middle, and lower reaches of the Verde River. The PNF is a total of 1.25 million acres, although they are not contiguous. One area of the PNF lies to the west of Prescott (the West Zone), while the East Zone of the PNF lies to the north and east of Prescott. The East Zone of PNF encompasses the headwaters of the Verde River, the southern edge of the middle stretch of the Verde River, and the stretch of the river designated as Wild & Scenic until just north of the confluence of Fossil Creek and the Verde.

Prescott National Forest Map

Map of Prescott National Forest boundary. Map Credit: The Nature Conservancy.

As with all U.S. Forest Service lands, the PNF is managed for multiple use. In the PNF’s Land and Resource Management Plan, the vision articulated for the forest is “to manage the cultural and natural resources of the Prescott NF to provide healthy watersheds, outdoor recreational opportunities, open space, scenery, and traditional uses that sustain the social and economic structure and stability of our communities.”

Some limited commercial and recreational mining occurs in the PNF, along with livestock grazing and relatively small-scale forest products harvesting (mainly for fiber, firewood and Christmas trees). But, the PNF is most well-known for the wide range of recreational opportunities that it supports. There are eight designated wilderness areas within the PNF, which house trails and primitive camp-sites and support a variety of back-country hiking and camping. Other recreational opportunities include a hang-gliding site on the top of Mingus Mountain, several off-highway vehicle recreation areas, numerous trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas. The PNF also supports a variety of river-related recreational activities along the Verde River, including kayaking, canoeing and rafting, as well as fishing and hunting. PNF is also home to a number of cultural sites, such as Lynx Creek Ruin and Charcoal Walker Kilns.

Granite Dells

Granite Dells near Prescott, Arizona in the Prescott National Forest.

The PNF Land and Resource Management Plan acknowledges that one of the key purposes of the PNF is to “protect and conserve water supplies for central Arizona.” One of the stated needs to be addressed by forest management activities for the PNF is to “retain and improve watershed integrity to provide desired water quality, quantity and timing of delivery.” This places importance not only on the water supply and quality for communities, but also on sustaining aquatic and riparian habitat for wildlife.

In terms of its watershed protection activities, the PNF is working to ensure that the health, resilience and adaptability of watershed functions are maintained by engaging in the following activities:

  • Ensuring that the quantity and timing of flows from seeps, springs, streams, and wetlands are sustained at a level to support ecological processes;
  • Maintaining water quality at Arizona standards to support ongoing beneficial uses, as well as aquatic and riparian habitat for wildlife;
  • Supporting soil and vegetation conditions in upland and riparian areas that facilitate groundwater recharge; and
  • Sustaining healthy riparian areas that are capable of developing stable vegetative communities that benefit wildilfe, stablize streambanks, flood plains and soil.

To learn more about the PNF’s work to protect watershed health, or to find out about recreational activities and events supported on the PNF, please visit its web site here.

If you are interested in learning more about the priorities and objectives in the PNF Land and Resource Management Plan, adopted in June of 2015, a link to the plan can be found here.

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