This is a special report, project and photos presented to you by the

Charter Oak School
Six & Seventh Grade Class of 2000

Kaweah Oaks Preserve - Our Precious Place

     When you come to experience our precious place, you could hear flowing water, singing birds and you may even see the beautiful Red Tailed Hawk soaring through the air.  You will see many different kinds of plants and animals that need this precious place.  Made up of 324 acres, it is the largest span of protected Valley Oak trees in the world.  Close your eyes, go back to a time when Indians collected acorns from these trees to survive, when they sat in the Alkali Meadow collecting seeds and salt grass, sat along the creek getting nourishment from the water, or when they laid still in the deep vine hiding from a passing bear.  This is a place, in the midst of all our technology, left untouched.  A place, so close to us, where we can go a see what our valley was like before we got here; where we can go and experience natureís true gifts.

     At Kaweah Oaks Preserve there are four very different habitats: Woodlands, Alkali Meadow, Riparian Forest, and Swamp.  In our agricultural San Joaquin valley, where land is used to grow food that feeds people all over the world, it is the only piece of land left that has not been plowed. 

      At the entry way, you will see a learning area, where you will get a briefing of the various plants and animals you will find on the trails from a volunteer guide when you schedule a visit.  Other times you can visit freely without a guide, as the preserve is never closed during daylight hours. 

      During our research to locate a precious place, we visited Kaweah Oaks Preserve for the first time in the fall.  The guide had already scheduled a tour so we made our way through several of the trails on our own.  The first habitat we experienced was the Alkali Meadow.  This piece of land is filled with salt grass. We tasted some of it!

     Next we ventured through the grapevine trail, which is a Riparian habitat.  It is very different from the meadow.  It is very dense with vines and many different trees.  There are areas the vine has grown up, around, through, and over trees, so much so, that it has formed tunnels and caves large enough to stand in and walk through. 

     This is the only trail that has check points that go along with a printed, self-guided tour pamphlet, that is left in a mailbox at the beginning of the trail.  With this pamphlet we were able to stop at the numbered check points and read about different plants, trees, and animalís homes.  We would have missed so much if we didnít have that guide.  It put a lot more richness and understanding in this trail than the other trails.  It gave us one idea of what we could do to improve this precious place, adding check points and self-guided tour pamphlets to the other trails. 

     During our visit we also made our way through an unmarked trail and lastly we headed down the creek, which is dry this time of year, to look for animal prints.  One other thing we got to experience was the inadequacy of the restroom.  The only place provided for using the restroom is a port-a-potty.  It was infested with wasps. 

     When we returned to school we decided that this unique piece of land, so close to us, would be the focus of our precious place report.   It is within a 15 minute drive from our school.  It has so much history; and there are a lot of ways we can help.  We contacted Kaweah Oaks people to mail us a list of needs to see if we could help.

      Some of the ways people ruin this place of wonders is by going off trails and taking home things.  Bushes, trees parts, and other natural growing things that help the ecosystems are needed, and it is important to stress to visitors not to disturb them.  By taking these things, people make little changes in the ecosystem that, as a result, make big problems.  They also leave trash lying around on the trails which never decomposes and is not good for the earth.  It also harms the ecosystem because it doesn't belong in the ecosystem.

     To preserve this place we and the people at Kaweah Oaks Preserve have ideas for making this place better.  Our Charter school is unique and flexible enough that we can focus part of our academic time at school toward helping Kaweah Oaks Preserve.  For example, some of the electives we already have, such as, construction, mechanical drawing, publishing, film, and community service can now have a real life focus for its classes.  We can help right here on campus, as well as, traveling to Kaweah Oaks Preserve itself. 

     We will be able to use our construction elective to build benches, tables, improve bridges, and help with the building of the permanent bathroom (they already have plans drawn, but no materials, funds, or labor to build it).  We will be able to publish trail guides, and informational pamphlets for the Preserve in our publishing elective.  We can do drafting in our mechanical drawing elective.  We can produce informational videos to send as a pre-visit educational resource for other schools in our film elective.  We can also spend our once-a-month community service days at the Preserve working with our own hands maintaining trails, building, and helping in any way we can. 

      The list of needs also included material, labor, and other donations that are needed for much of the work that needs to be done.  We are going to prepare a presentation here at school that students can take out into the community.  We are going to gain presentation experience by making appointments with businesses around our community and present them with our plans and the needs of Kaweah Oaks to try to raise the needed help.

      If we work together we can make this keep this place as precious as it was in years past, and still is.  It is important to preserve Kaweah Oaks Preserve so that our generation and future generations will have a place to go to see what our valley was like before we got here.  Teamwork is what is needed, we are going to work together and ask our community to work with us.

Their fist visit was November 9, 1999. They explored the trails on their own after a brief introduction by a docent.
The group's second visit was a mix of work and play. First they filled in part of a trail to cover some rocks and installed a lower handrail on one of the bridges for little visitors. Second, they finally got a quick guided tour of the legendary Grapevine Trail.
This is a 'before' photo of the stumbling rocks in the middle of the trail.
This is how it looked when they were finished. Their school administrator came out to help and inspect their work. He was very pleased with these students. And so is the Four Creeks Land Trust! 
Some filled the buckets...
...and some emptied the buckets.
These three boys helped a KOP advocate complete the installation of a lower handrail he made for the smaller children that visit the preserve. He made it after he heard that a few young students were frightened to cross the bridge when water was rushing below. We are always grateful for these small but important tasks being accomplished.
On January 21st they came out the third time and started a bigger project... reclaiming the Swamp Trail. Here the students without tools use their built in tools - feet, to compress the soil in a loose area on the trail. 
By the way, the photographer was Mr. Holman from the Visalia Times Delta - we might be in the paper!
The students soon learned the difference between native and exotic (introduced) plants. Here they remove young Poison Hemlock, Milk Thistle and Bull Thistle from the trail. Boy, there's a lot of that Poison Hemlock to shovel prune. It stinks, too!
The students pruned native California Grapevines that were overhanging the trail. One hung on to the wiley vine while the other trimmed it.
Setting the trail markers was accomplished in March. The sixth grade class set all 15 markers in one morning. Things go pretty fast when you have several teens working on the same mission. It was a beautiful spring morning to be at at KOP.
A couple of COS guys came out to help supervise. Gee... are they lettin' the girls do the hard stuff? Not really. The girls hoed thistle and poison hemlock while the boys dug post holes to set the trail markers. These students worked hard and discovered that this was a different kind of FUN. It was kinda rewarding, too!
The students were trained and ready to lead guided tours for the May 13th Spring Banquet. With notes in hand and full of self- confidence, they shared with their groups the plants, birds, history and future of their 'Precious Place' here in the Central Valley.

Congressman Cal Dooley presents the Lee Wilson Youth Conservation Award to 
Ms. TenBroeck & the 6th grade class of Charter Oak School on May 13, 2000
for their great accomplishment of reclaiming the Swamp Trail.

     These students took on a big project because they wanted to do something special for their community.  Eleven and twelve year old children can be responsible and committed to better their world. We learned to respect these students and they learned to respect Kaweah Oaks Preserve and their natural heritage. They also learned that it is their responsibility, now and in the future, to protect this precious place and others like it. 
     Four Creeks Land Trust wishes to thank Ms. TenBroeck and all the Charter Oak students that helped at Kaweah Oaks Preserve during this school year. You have left us all with a sense of wonder at what youth can do with simple tools and excellent leadership. You have motivated all of us to work together for a better tomorrow.

  *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * 
NOTE: The Charter Oak School continues to come once a month during the school year to keep Kaweah Oaks Preserve looking gooooood!

back to main subject index
back to photo gallery     or    charter oaks 2003F