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Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Kachina Wetlands: April 2013

Hidden on a high Flagstaff mesa just about a mile off I17 is a walk able, 70-acre waterfowl wonderland.  The Kachina Wetlands is a collection of 8 shallow ponds constructed to manage treated effluent water. The project, which began in 1988 with the cooperation of various agencies including NAU, AZ Game & Fish and Coconino County, has auxiliary goals to improve wildlife habitat and foster native vegetation. Although some of the ponds are not operational right now, the site is still prime real estate for winged beasts.   Thick growths of cattails and other aquatic plants coupled with  mid-pond islands provide safe havens from marauding elk and hungry forest critters for the hundreds of species of birds and waterfowl that frequent the area.  The marshy pools are aflutter with grebes, mallards, coots, sandpipers, nighthawks, woodpeckers, swallows, chickadees, jays, warblers, blackbirds and soaring birds of prey.  Until recently, the only hiking opportunity here was the mile or so of circumference paths.  That all changed when the Highlands Trail-- which connects to Ft Tuthill Park-- was completed in 2009.  Woodsy but unremarkable, the easy, urban-class Highlands Trail stays close to civilization dodging public roads and private properties on its 3.7-mile track from the park to the wetlands. The trail wanders through a checkerboard of pine-oak woodlands (with occasional views of San Francisco Peaks and Mormon Mountain), skirts a few suburban backyards and crosses AZ89A before reaching the wetlands. 

LENGTH: 9.6 miles round trip
RATING: easy
ELEVATION:  6890' - 7040'
BEST SEASON: open year-round, but bird sightings are best spring-fall
DOGS: dogs MUST be on leash and stay out of the wetlands ponds
FACILITIES: restrooms, picnic tables, camping at the park
Fort Tuthill County Park (as described here):
From Phoenix travel north on I17 to exit 337 for AZ89A and "county fairgrounds". At the end of the off ramp, continue straight into Ft. Tuthill Park and follow the main road to the Yavapai Ramada parking lot.
Kachina Wetlands (direct access):
From Phoenix take I17 north to exit 333 for Kachina Village.  Go left off the access road, drive under the freeway and take the first right on Tovar Trail. Follow this road 1.5 mile to the corner of Tovar Trail and Lohali Trail, park on the right and pass through the gate to the wetlands.
Yellow-headed blackbird

From the Ft Tuthill Yavapai parking lot, hike south on the road on the west side of the amphitheater to where Soldiers Trail (marked by green lathe-style signs) crosses.  Head west (go right) and follow Soldiers Trail roughly .30 mile to a signed, but un-named junction.  This is the access path for Highlands Trail.  Turn left here and within 0.2 mile you'll come to the north end of the loop portion of Highlands Trail.  Go either way and continue 1 or 1.3 mile to AZ89A.  Cross the road and continue 2.5 miles on Highlands to Kachina Wetlands.  There are several trails circling the ponds.  When done exploring, return the way you came or take the opposite leg of the Highlands loop back to the parking area. NOTE: Ft Tuthill Park has an "official" trailhead serving all its trails.  If you begin there, add another mile to the overall distance shown here.
Peaks view along Highlands Trail

Fort Tuthill County Park, Coconino County Parks & Recreation: 928-679-8000

Kachina Wetlands:
NAU management plan:
Northern Arizona Audubon bird checklist:


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