Experiential learning for NAU forestry students
The NAU Centennial Forest is Northern Arizona University’s research, teaching, and demonstration forest — a cooperative venture between Northern Arizona University and the Arizona State Land Department.
In 1959, the Arizona State Land Department designated 4,000 acres of forest land as an “outdoor laboratory” for the School of Forestry at Arizona State College in Flagstaff (now Northern Arizona University). The research and education programs initiated by the designation helped establish the school as one of the top rated forestry institutions in the country.
In April 2000, the two organizations came together once again to establish a much larger research, education, and demonstration forest spanning nearly 50,000 acres of forest, woodland, and grassland.
Where is NAU’s Centennial Forest?
At nearly 50,000 acres, the Centennial Forest covers the spectrum from windblown desert grasslands to stately ponderosa pine forests. The diversity of ecosystems encompassed by the Centennial Forest, and the close proximity to NAU and Flagstaff make it an ideal location for education and research.
Managing the Centennial Forest Accordion Closed
An agreement signed by Arizona Governor Jane D. Hull in April 2000 establishes a new paradigm of cooperation for land stewardship in Arizona. Agencies and community groups actively participate by serving on the Centennial Forest Advisory Committee which provides oversight and helps develop a management plan for the Forest. Northern Arizona University’s School of Forestry and the Arizona State Forestry Division coordinate to manage the 47,500-acre area to provide research and education opportunities, reduce the risk of wildfire, provide ecosystem services such as clean water, carbon storage, wildlife habitat, timber, and livestock forage.
Location Accordion Closed
The Centennial Forest is divided roughly in half: one-half north of Flagstaff, Arizona, just west of Wupatki National Monument, and the other half southwest of town interspersed in a checkerboard pattern within the Coconino National Forest.
Geology and landforms Accordion Closed
The Centennial Forest sits atop the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Several million years ago lava began to flow over this sedimentary plateau in the vicinity of Williams, Arizona. The zone of active volcanism slowly migrated northeastward to the area around Sunset Crater which erupted during the 11th century. One of the newest and most striking volcanic features on the Centennial Forest is SP Crater which erupted a little over 70,000 years ago. The sharp “ah ah” lava flows associated with this cinder cone have been used by NASA to test the robustness of space suits.
Climate and vegetation Accordion Closed
Annual precipitation ranges from an average of 10 to 15 inches in the northern grasslands to over 25 inches in the higher elevation areas southwest of Flagstaff. Intense monsoon thunderstorms account for most of the precipitation north of Flagstaff. Snowfall becomes increasingly important with the 2000 ft elevation gain to the southwest. Differences in elevation, topography and regional wind patterns help create a variety of vegetation types. Most common are the extensive ponderosa pine forests southwest of Flagstaff. Some of these forests have high concentrations of Gambel oak and New Mexican locust while others are pure ponderosa. Wetlands, meadows, and aspen can also be found. The northern portion of the Forest is home to extensive grasslands, shrub-grassland communities, open juniper woodlands, and pinyon-juniper forests.
Land use Accordion Closed
The Centennial Forest has been home to Native Americans for several thousand years. Evidence of hunting and gathering can be found almost anywhere in the Forest, but two areas contain evidence of large settlements including petroglyphs and Sinaguan pit houses.
Euro-American settlement in the late 1800s brought timber harvesting and domestic livestock to the region. Since these activities began relatively recently, timber and grazing records are available for the entire duration of Euro-American settlement. Logging activity touched much of the southwestern portion of the forest, but a few areas were uncut or only lightly affected by logging.
Today, portions of the Centennial Forest are being thinned for the purpose of restoring damaged ecosystems and protecting community values from the risk of catastrophic fire. Most of the Centennial Forest is leased for commercial grazing operations.
Research Accordion Closed
Several research projects are underway to study forest and grassland ecosystems on a landscape level and over a very long period of time. Furthermore, the rich historical, geological, and archaeological resources, and the unique stewardship agreement of the Centennial Forest are attracting researchers from across the country, and even internationally. Investigating how forest management affects the ability of forests to capture an store carbon is a rapidly growing field of study on the Forest.
To apply for a research or teaching permit, please fill out an activity application found on our documents page. If you have questions on access to the Centennial Forest for research or education, please contact us by email.
Education Accordion Closed
The educational opportunities are just as exciting. Hands-on experience in many disciplines is very difficult to come by because of the time and expense of traveling to field sites. On the Centennial Forest, students can conduct archaeological surveys within minutes of campus. Forestry field laboratories occur on the Forest, and some of the student-collected data are even used to help manage the Forest. What better way to challenge students to learn than to let them actually participate in the entire process of natural resource management from data collection to decision making?
In addition to providing an outdoor lab for university students, the Centennial Forest provides educational opportunities to students, families, and groups of all ages. School-age students can participate in week-long camps focused on natural resource management, outdoor leadership, and environmental science. Family-centered programs create an opportunity to combine an educational adventure into a vacation, and Centennial Forest staff can even create custom educational programs and experiences for Centennial Forest visitors. For more information on our summer environmental education programs, visit our website or contact us by email.
Centennial Forest cooperators
- Arizona State Land Department
- Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership
- Ecological Restoration Institute
- Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research
- Center for Sustainable Environments at NAU
- Flagstaff Arboretum
200 East Pink Knoll Drive
P.O. Box 15018
Flagstaff, AZ 86011
News and info
- Newsletter 2014
- Newsletter 2013
- Join us this summer for adventure and fun at one of our Environmental Education Program’s Summer Camps.