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;
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]
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.
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.
Alan 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.Being deeply moved by the dedication ceremonies of Kaweah Oaks Preserve, Myrtle Franklin confided with Alan George,
“Preserving this land...
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.
Lee Wilson Youth Conservation Award was instituted in his honor in
|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
main photo gallery F