Ok, so I have been throwing around the idea of posting this as a "hike" for quite some time, being as this preserve is so close to my house, and the fact that I actually go there somewhat often. Well its also an "Important Bird Area", which supports the argument for it being listed on HAZ. The fact that Scottsdale Greenbelt, Rio Salado and other urban hikes are listed on hikearizona also finally persuaded me to go ahead and list this as a hike. That being said, I don't really consider this hiking, more of a city stroll where once in a while you might see something cool.
The Gilbert Water Ranch or Riparian Preserve is a 110 acre preserve,is a series of ponds or "lakes" which are filled with reclaimed water. There are seven ponds in all, as well as a lake that is stocked with fish and where fishing is permitted. This is man-made urban riparian habitat in the middle of the city, and draws lots of interesting birds. Close to 200 species of birds have been reported at the preserve, and according to the preserve website people come from different states and countries to see the sometimes rare birds that can be found at the preserve. I'm not sure how truthful that statement is, but I must say if you are visiting Arizona from elsewhere, PLEASE go to the Grand Canyon, or the Petrified Forest, or the Sky Islands down south, don't waste your time in a silly town like Gilbert. I can't imagine visiting another state to visit an urban, city park. So in conclusion, this is not a destination, but rather a good sunday morning stroll if you live within a few miles.
On to the actual "hike". Well essentially there are various paths that weave in and around the ponds and lake and provide viewing areas for the birds. Some of the more common birds that I've seen are ducks, geese, avocets, great blue herons, and black-necked stilts. I've also seen burrowing owls and some other pretty neat animals there. Other than birds, not much in the way of wildlife. There are Pond Sliders, Bullfrogs, and feral cats, all of which are introduced pests. Supposedly there are native Mud Turtles, and Kingsnakes at the preserve but I am a bit doubtful about that, this is an island habitat surrounded by city, so unless the preserve staff introduced some of the natives I have to question where they came from. You can make a nice easy loop walk by connecting some of the paths, and you might learn a thing or two about desert plants or birds from the informative signs. I'd say you could make a loop of 2-3 miles pretty easily, and on the preserve map they actually have suggestions for routes you might take and the mileage of each route. Once you've had enough, or found that elusive bird, head on back to the parking lot and back home.