Yokut woman harvesting salt grass
History of
The Oaks Preserve


 
The aboriginal Yokuts Indians of the Wukchumne Tribe (pronounced: ´Yo-kotch with emphasis on first syllable and both o's having a long o sound) used the acorns from this oak forest as their primary food source. They harvested many plants and animals here but never actually lived on the Preserve due to annual spring flooding. At that time, the forest spread over 400 square miles, from the base of the Sierra Nevada on the east to the edge of Tulare Lake on the west.  (see Indian Summer, Traditional Life among the Choinumne Yokuts Indians of California's San Joaquin Valley; ISBN: 0-930588-64-9) 

Early European settlers found the cool shade and rich soil of the oak woodland an ideal place to build their homes and grow their crops. By the turn of the twentieth century, the forest along the Kaweah* River was being cut at a rapid rate and replaced by orchards and vineyards. The site of the current Kaweah Oaks Preserve has been used as a cattle pasture and woodlot since the early 1900s. Mush Oaks, the name the Yokuts gave the Valley Oaks, were only valued for acorn production and firewood until the 1920s when naturalists recognized their greater ecological value.

*Note: The Kaweah River is named after the Gawia Tribe that lived near Woodlake. The English translated the "G" to a "K." Gawia means crow or raven's cry. The tribe was so named because they were known to be a rowdy bunch and often raised alot of noise... like a flock of crows.              [top]


Importance

Kaweah Oaks Preserve's 324 acres is one of the finest valley oak woodlands left in the world. Valley oaks grow only in the Golden State and generally below 2,500 feet and are the largest of all oaks on the continent. Trunks can reach up to 9 feet in diameter and be 600 years old. Trees 4 feet in diameter are about 250 years old. The tap root of a young valley oaks tree can go very deep allowing it to hold firmly during high winds and enables them to endure long periods of drought. But as the tree matures, the tap root sloughs off and the tree develops a tiered root system with feeder and sinker roots that permeate different layers in the soil profile, generally from two to four feet below the soil surface. Some of these roots extend out more than twice the drip line. Therefore, Valley oaks are dependent upon the high groundwater table normally found in riparian habitat along the Kaweah River Delta.

Kaweah Oaks Preserve is a remnant example of the thousands of square miles of valley oak woodland and riparian forest that once grew on the floor of the Central Valley. The Preserve is populated with valley oak (Quercus lobata), California sycamore, Oregon ash, Fremont cottonwood, five willows, elderberry, wild grape, and California and Himalayan blackberry. A variety of wildlife use the lush setting for nesting and feeding, including herons, hawks, owls, and numerous species of song birds. The several ponds on the Preserve provide a home for the colorful wood duck and several species of frogs and toads. In all, more than 100 species of birds use this important natural area. Eleven species of reptiles and amphibians (including the California legless lizard) and 14 species of mammals (including the coyote and the raccoon) also occur here.

The Alkali Meadow at the Preserve represents a fascinating plant community, one that is as rare today in California as the surrounding oak woodland. This meadow has been grazed, but never cultivated by man and contains several native species of plants still used medicinally by the Yokuts Indians living in the Central Valley.


Acquisition

 In 1983, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) paid $1,010,000 for the 324 acres we now call Kaweah Oaks Preserve (KOP). In the mid '90s The Nature Conservancy determined to turn control of the preserve over to a local entity. TNC had two choices: the community college who would utilize it solely for academic uses; or the local volunteers that had worked to acquire the land for the community and had managed it successfully for several years. Their decision was simple and they decided to give the Kaweah Oaks Preserve to the recently formed Four Creeks Land Trust in 1998.
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Persons Responsible

Alan GeorgeAlan George, retired Tulare County Farm Advisor, was awarded the Outstanding Service Award by TNC for being the key individual to establish the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, and for organizing a team of volunteers who raised more than $115,000 locally to aid in TNC's purchase of the land. He was one of twelve Nature Conservancy volunteers to receive this state-wide award. But Alan is quick to share the credit with several of his dedicated KOP committee members that worked hard to make Kaweah Oaks Preserve and Four Creeks Land Trust a reality.

Max Cochran, an old friend and Former County Superintendent of Schools, mentioned that he had a project for Alan when the right time came. “The Swamp”, as Joe Doctor used to call it, would be an ideal parcel to preserve, especially since it was not good for farming and is in a relatively natural state. When Mr. George became the President of the Historical Society, the time was right.

It just so happened that the owner, Myrtle Franklin, came into the Farm Advisor's office to inquire about farming the land. Alan George advised that the water table was too high for walnuts, field crops would be okay but the cost of leveling and preparing the land for farming would be quite high. He asked if she ever considered preserving the land; she said no. Several months later, after researching the tax advantages, she came back and was considering preserving it. Mr. George immediately called an attorney with The Nature Conservancy in San Francisco. The Nature Conservancy was very interested because they had just established several critical areas in California and the Valley Oak Woodland was on their list. They negotiated over several months and finally agreed to $1,010,000.

The Kaweah Oaks Preserve Dedication Ceremony on May 15, 1983 was attended by over 2,000 nature enthusiasts and included guided tours, a barbecue and several presentations. The Board of Supervisors of Tulare County, the Visalia Garden Club and other dignitaries recognized The Nature Conservancy for their outstanding contribution to the citizens of the county through the protection of over 3,600 acres of wild (or natural) lands in Tulare County. Dr. Tom Griggs, our first preserve manager, discussed management plans for the restoration of KOP's original lush growth; and Joe Doctor, our local historian, reviewed the history of the area in colorful detail. 

A special highlight of the day was the dedication prayer made by Rev. Lee Wilson:

"Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of heaven and earth, maintainer of the atoms, worlds, and galaxies, sustainer of life in all creatures: We give you thanks for all your marvelous works. Open, we beseech you, our eyes, to behold the beauty of your gracious hand in all creation.

We praise you for the majesty of the earth, and sky and seas, for the richness of the mountains, plains and streams, for the song of the birds and the beauty of the flowers. We especially thank you for this small corner of your world. Give us wisdom, reverence and grateful hearts, to use it wisely, that future generations may know your handiwork, as it was in the beginning of time.

We thank you for the generous hearts of those who have given of their time, abilities and resources, towards the preservation of this sanctuary of Kaweah Oaks, for all living things. May this small corner set aside for study and learning, open the eyes of all people to understand and preserve your creation. For this we dedicate this land, that we may serve you with gladness. For the sake of Him by whom all thing were made, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen"

Being deeply moved by the dedication ceremonies of Kaweah Oaks Preserve, Myrtle Franklin confided with Alan George,
“Preserving this land...
 was the best thing I've ever done in my life.”
Rev. Lee WilsonFather Wilson, as Rev. Lee Wilson is affectionately called, was one of the primarily promoters of The Preserve to the Tulare County Schools. He would cook up some delicious Elderberry Jam, take it, some bread and his slide show of KOP birds taken from blinds he'd built at The Preserve, and entertain class after class of students. Then he would lead them on an enchanted adventure on the trails and share with them the wonders of nature up close and personal. Lee also created interesting dioramas of the many habitats, birds and mammals located at The Preserve and installed them in the Information Center Kiosk. The kiosk was burned to the ground by vandals in 1996, two years after his death. The community was outraged, but his true legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of the children and adults he so positively influenced.

Lee Wilson's dedication for sharing the joy of nature with youngsters at Kaweah Oaks Preserve lives on in the hearts of each new generation of trail guides. We are grateful for his examples of love, deep conviction and enthusiasm for KOP. 

The Lee Wilson Youth Conservation Award was instituted in his honor in 1999.
 

Carolyn Pendery, one of the first docents (trail guide) and active member of the Audubon Society, organized the guided nature walks with Tulare County educators. She, Bard McCallister, Lee Wilson, Jeanette Mitchell, Barbara Hopkins, and Merrill Gowdy were the original docent corps. Several were retired educators and also gave Lee's slide presentations in the classrooms. They all enjoyed sharing nature with children and they especially enjoyed the many teachable moments on the trail. 

Carolyn continued to manage the program through the mid 1990's. Then Carolyn recruited and trained the next generation of docents from the visitors and supporters she led on her wonderful guided nature walks at Kaweah Oaks Preserve. She regrets that her knees won't cooperate anymore, so is now fully retired - except for growing a few acres of oranges in Ivanhoe.

Bard McCallister was a wonderful storyteller and a favorite docent for many school age children. He always wore a red beret, plaid flannel shirt with suspenders and charmed many a group with his whimsical ways. His Meadow Walks are still remembered as inspiring students to look, listen and learn more about nature. Bard passed away in 2001 after a long illness. We miss him.

A Teacher's Handbook and Resource Guide to Kaweah Oaks Preserve was a valuable summer project facilitated by Norm McCallister (of SCICON) and several teachers that used KOP for field trips. This handbook was distributed to educators in Tulare County and Carolyn Pendery organized workshops to educate teachers about the educational benefits and techniques for getting the most out of a class trip to The Preserve. This handbook is still an important reference for Kaweah Oaks Preserve trail guides and local educators.

Charter members, Dick and Do Dooley, manufactured and installed the first trail markers on the Grapevine Trail and were primarily responsible for maintaining the trails with a small band of other supporters. Wilson Pendery (Carolyn's hubby), along with Rob Hansen and Lee Wilson developed the original Grapevine Trail interpretive brochure in 1984. These same supporters also built the original sturdy picnic tables that we still use today.

Preserve Enhancements

The Nature Conservancy kept a part-time manager on staff from 1984 through 1989. He and the dedicated band of grass-root supporters divided up the many management tasks in the early years. The grass-roots group are responsible for the trails, markers and interpretive brochures that enhance your visit.
Under New Manangement
The new millennium brought a merger with two other land trusts that changed the leadership and re-partnered the group with The Nature Conservancy in 2001. With a new vision and mission the local land conservation philosophy has changed dramatically.


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