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Earth Notes

Earth Notes - Pasture Restoration Project

The short trail to the outlet of Montezuma's Well follows the path of a 1,000 year old irrigation ditch.

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Pasture Restoration Project

A thousand years ago, Sinagua farmers channeled water from Montezuma Well onto their fields of corn, beans, and squash. Nineteenth-century Anglo farmers enlarged the fields, improved the irrigation ditches, and tapped into the same spring. In 1943, the Well became part of Montezuma Castle National Monument. Yet cattle grazed the land around the Well into the 1990s.

Now, some forty acres of old pastureland beside Wet Beaver Creek are being restored. Funded by the Arizona Water Protection Fund, the Pasture Restoration Project is a collaboration between the National Park Service and Flagstaff-based Natural Channel Design. With support from the National Park Foundation, students from around the Verde Valley are volunteering to do the down-and-dirty work of habitat restoration.

In three years, they've gotten rid of invasive weeds in the fallow fields. They've put in hundreds of individual plants, and seeds of some thirty other native species. Now desert willow, four-wing saltbush, soaptree yucca, and brittlebush are taking hold. Throughout the floodplain terrace, grasslands and mesquite and riparian woodland are also being rejuvenated, making productive habitat for a slew of mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects.

The work is good for wildlife and it will enhance visits to the monument, too. One day visitors to Montezuma Well will be able to take a new trail that tells both of age-old farming practices and of the modern-day citizen scientists who have helped return this patch of native land to health.

-Rose Houk