Summer temperatures are high, but many parks in metro Phoenix still offer some respite from the blazing heat. One that’s noteworthy is the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert. This park is a scenic and essential habitat where a variety of wildlife thrives in an urban environment.
The park has lush walking trails, ramadas, gardens and an observatory. But what really makes it special is that it's dotted with a 5-acre lake and seven ponds.
Need somewhere to go this weekend? Check out the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Here's everything you can do there.
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How big is Gilbert's riparian preserve?
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch was built in 1999 to replenish groundwater supplies and support native riverside forest and wildlife habitats.
According to the city, the riparian preserve covers 110 acres. Over 70 of those acres comprise seven water recharge basins that are filled on a rotating basis with treated wastewater.
This system has created mesquite-cottonwood stands, ponds and other wetland habits for a variety of animals.
What animals can you see at the riparian preserve?
The park's focal point is Water Ranch Lake. Here you can spot ducks and other waterfowl swimming about, there are fish in the lake and you might spot a desert cottontail rabbit running through the greenery that encompasses the water.
Water Ranch Lake is surrounded by walking trails and many of the paths interweave throughout the park's flora and ponds. A floating boardwalk at the northern end of the lake gives visitors a scenic vista of the park and close-up views of the fish and birds on the water.
But ducks aren't the only birds to see. The wetland habitat of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch has been designated an Important Birding Area by Audubon.org. The park attracts over 300 species of birds, many of which are migratory.
Examples of birds to look for at the preserve:
Want to spot birds with the experts? Desert Rivers Audubon offers free bird walks from 8 a.m. to noon on the third Saturday of the month from October through March. Tours begin at the Dragonfly Ramada.
The preserve also provides habitat for these animals and insects:
For wildlife protection, visitors may only feed waterfowl. All other animal feeding is prohibited. You may feed bird seed, corn or whole grain cereal to the waterfowl.
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What kinds of fish are in Water Ranch Lake?
Water Ranch Lake is part of the Arizona Game and Fish Community Fishing Program. That means it's open for public fishing and is stocked with a variety of species. You might catch trout, catfish, bass or sunfish. Fishing is allowed any time the park is open.
Visit the Arizona Game and Fish website to see the daily catch limits for each species. All bass and sunfish must be released. Single barbless hooks are required.
A fishing license is required for anglers age 10 and older. To see the license options, purchase yours online or find the locations of more than 300 license dealers statewide, go to https://www.azgfd.com/license.
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The observatory at Gilbert Riparian Preserve
The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch doesn’t only have opportunities to explore on land.
Next to the Gilbert Library at Greenfield and Guadalupe Roads, the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory lets visitors peer at the night sky. The observatory is owned by the city and managed by the East Valley Astronomy Club.
Public viewing hours are from sunset to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Visitors can look through the telescope at stars, planets, constellations and other celestial objects. Admission is free; donations are welcomed.
Want to bring a group? Private viewing is available Sunday through Thursday evenings for up to six people. Appointments are required. Visit https://www.grcoonline.org and click on Private Viewing.
For an optimum experience, the observatory recommends that visitors refrain from using flashlights or looking at bright lights during their visit. According to the observatory's website, the best viewing is achieved when your eyes are “dark adapted.”
More things to do at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
The park's trails are lined with educational panels that explain the vegetation and wildlife.
A pollinator garden shows how flowering plants depend on bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects for seed production. There also are a bee garden, wildflower garden and butterfly garden.
Throughout the preserve there are viewing areas, many of which are in shade, that are perfect for bird watching and relaxing.
There's a play area for kids, and restrooms are available.
Dogs are welcome at the riparian preserve. They must be on a leash.
Can you picnic at the riparian preserve?
The preserve has two picnic ramadas, each with four tables and a grill. Ramada rentals cost $15 per hour for Gilbert residents and $22.50 per hour for nonresidents. To reserve a ramada, visit the Gilbert Parks and Recreation website.
There also are picnic tables and benches scattered throughout the park that are first come, first served, and free to all.
Can you camp at Riparian Preserve?
Three group campsites are available. All are on the water and have views of the marshlands.
Small campsites can hold up to 20 campers and cost $30 a night for Gilbert residents and $45 for nonresidents. Large campsites can hold up to 35 campers and cost $40 a night for Gilbert residents and $60 for nonresidents.
To reserve a campsite, visit the Gilbert Parks and Recreation page.
Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch
When: Park hours are 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Trails are open dawn to dusk.
Where: Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, 2757 E. Guadalupe Road, Gilbert.
Details: 480-503-6263, https://www.gilbertaz.gov.
You can connect with Arizona Republic Culture and Outdoors Reporter Shanti Lerner through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can also follow her on Twitter.
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