Riparian Reserve at Water Ranch

Summer temperatures are high, but many parks in the Phoenix metro area still offer some respite from the scorching heat. Of note is the Water Ranch waterfront reserve 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 paths, 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 reserve at the Water Ranch. Here’s all you can do about it.

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The Gilbert Waterfront Reserve is a key attraction for out-of-state visitors.

How big is Gilbert’s waterfront reserve?

The Water Ranch riparian reserve was built in 1999 to replenish groundwater supplies and support native riparian forest and wildlife habitats.

According to the city, the waterfront reserve covers 110 acres. More than 70 of these acres include seven water recharge ponds which are filled on a rotational basis with treated wastewater.

This system has created stands of mesquite-cottonwood, ponds, and other wetland habitats for a variety of animals.

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Julia Gillingham (left) and Jessica Vaughan walk along a trail at the Gilbert Riparian Reserve at the Water Ranch on June 26, 2022 in Gilbert.

What animals can you see at the waterfront reserve?

The focal point of the park is Water Ranch Lake. Here you can spot ducks and other waterfowl swimming, there are fish in the lake, and you might spot a desert eastern cottontail rabbit striding through the greenery surrounding the water.

Water Ranch Lake is surrounded by walking trails and many trails weave through the park’s flora and ponds. A floating boardwalk at the north end of the lake gives visitors panoramic views of the park and up-close views of fish and birds on the water.

American avocets search for fish in the Gilbert Riparian Reserve at the Water Ranch on June 26, 2022 in Gilbert.

But ducks aren’t the only birds to see. The wetland habitat of the Water Ranch Riparian Reserve 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 in the reserve:

  • A variety of ducks including Shoveler, Teal and Mallard.
  • Domestic finch.
  • Gila peak.
  • Gambel’s quail.
  • White-winged doves.
  • Cliff swallow.
  • Yellow warbler.
  • Spotted Sandpiper.
  • Anna’s Hummingbird.

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 reserve also provides habitat for these animals and insects:

  • Raccoons.
  • Desert cottontail rabbits.
  • Sonoran Mud Turtles.
  • Dragonflies.
  • Butterflies.
  • The bees.

For wildlife protection, visitors may only feed waterfowl. All other animal feed is prohibited. You can feed birdseed, corn, or whole-grain cereal to waterfowl.

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Gilbert Riparian Reserve

What types of fish are found in Water Ranch Lake?

Water Ranch Lake is part of the Arizona Game and Fish Community Fishing program. This means that it is open to public fishing and is populated with a variety of species. You might catch trout, catfish, bass or sunfish. Fishing is permitted whenever the park is open.

Visit the Arizona Game and Fish website to see daily bag limits for each species. All bass and panfish must be released. Single barbless hooks are required.

A fishing license is required for anglers 10 years and older. To view license options, purchase yours online, or find the locations of over 300 license resellers statewide, go to https://www.azgfd.com/license.

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The Gilbert Riverside Reserve Observatory

The Water Ranch Riparian Reserve doesn’t just offer exploration opportunities on land.

Next to the Gilbert Library on Greenfield and Guadalupe Roads, the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory allows visitors to gaze at the night sky. The observatory is owned by the city and operated by the East Valley Astronomy Club.

Public hours are from sunset to 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Visitors can look through the telescope at stars, planets, constellations and other celestial objects. Free entry; donations are welcome.

Do you want to come as 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 the best 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.”

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Wildflowers are in bloom at the Water Ranch waterfront reserve in Gilbert on March 13, 2020.

More Things to Do at Water Ranch Riparian Reserve

The paths of the park are lined with educational panels explaining the vegetation and the fauna.

A pollinator garden shows how flowering plants depend on bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects for seed production. There is also a bee garden, a wildflower garden and a butterfly garden.

Throughout the reserve there are viewing areas, many of which are in the shade, which are perfect for bird watching and relaxing.

There is a playground for children and toilets are available.

Dogs are welcome in the waterfront reserve. They must be kept on a leash.

Can you picnic at the waterfront reserve?

The reserve has two picnic ramadas, each with four tables and a grill. Ramada rentals are $15 per hour for Gilbert residents and $22.50 per hour for non-residents. To book a ramada, visit the Gilbert Parks and Recreation website.

There are also picnic tables and benches dotted around the park which are first come, first served and free for all.

Can you camp at Riparian Preserve?

Three group campsites are available. All are on the water and have a view of the marshes.

Small campsites can accommodate up to 20 campers and cost $30 a night for Gilbert residents and $45 for non-residents. Large campsites can accommodate up to 35 campers and cost $40 a night for Gilbert residents and $60 for non-residents.

To reserve a campsite, visit the Gilbert Parks and Recreation page.

Riparian Reserve at Water Ranch

When: Park hours are 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. The trails are open from dawn to dusk.

Where: Waterfront Reserve at Water Ranch, 2757 E. Guadalupe Road, Gilbert.

Admission: Free.

Details: 480-503-6263, https://www.gilbertaz.gov.

You can connect with Arizona Republic culture and outside reporter Shanti Lerner via email at shanti.lerner@gannett.com or you can also follow her on Twitter.

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