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The Swamp Trail
at
Kaweah Oaks Preserve
Our hope is to preserve the Valley Oak Tree (Quercus lobata), the surrounding forest, meadow and woodland. This same landscape once covered 400 square miles in the Kaweah, Tule and Kern River Deltas and now only exists in small pockets. Several valley oaks living on the Preserve are 300+ years old and are hosts to many native insects, birds and small mammals. The Yokuts Indians once harvested the acorns and other native plants that still thrive here. We strive to promote conservation of all native plant and animal life and provide an educational outdoor laboratory for local schools and other like-minded individuals to enjoy or explore. It is owned and maintained by local volunteers dedicated to preserving our natural heritage. Be a member and help us preserve other special places.
Welcome to the Kaweah Oaks Preserve, owned and managed by the Four Creeks Chapter of the Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust. Please use this interpretive trail brochure to enhance your journey along the Swamp* Trail. Take 30 minutes or several hours to enjoy this easy 7/8 mile loop trail.  
 
This guide will introduce you to many of the plants and animals that inhabit this valley oak woodland/riparian forest community. The 15 numbered stops detail highlights found along the trail. Keep alert for signs of wildlife. 
 
*This area flooded regularly before Terminus Dam dammed the Kaweah River in 1962. Since then the swamp has disappeared and so have most of the mosquitoes. We have retained the name only for historical reasons. Turtle Pond (#15) is the nearest habitat to a swamp we can claim. 
 
PLEASE OBSERVE THESE SIMPLE RULES: 
Remember, this is a nature preserve, we humans are the guests here. Please help preserve it by not collecting plants, animals, insects or fish. Stay on the trail and take everything you brought with you when you leave. Smoking, camping, pets, radios, fires, paint-ball guns and firearms are prohibited. Also, visiting hours are from dawn to dusk.  
 
Thank you for your cooperation and please enjoy your visit. 


Swamp Trail MapThe Swamp Trail 

The Swamp Trail meanders through a valley oak woodland and riparian forest. Riparian forests are found along the streams and ditches that traverse KOP. Water flow is unpredictable due to controlled releases at the Terminus Dam on Kaweah Lake, but enough water flows through to maintain riparian vegetation. The plant community on this trail is composed of native Valley Oak, Sycamore, Willows, Ash, Wild Grape, Blackberry, Sedges, grasses, perennial herbs, and many exotic (introduced) species.  
 


Arroyo Willow
1. The Swamp Tail begins at the Arroyo Willows (Salix lasiolepis) on the far west end of the preserve. These native willows are found near water in the Kaweah River Basin and all over California. Willows provide wildlife with food and excellent shelter. The Yokuts Indians cherished the leaves, bark and roots for its pain relieving characteristics and had many uses for its small but strong branches. 

Blue Elderberrry
2. The native Blue Elderberry (Sambucus cerulean) is host to the protected Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle. Most parts of this tree are very toxic until cooked or fermented. It’s okay to taste the ripe whitish berries, but taste only the berries, not the stems or the leaves. To the left is a nice patch of native Saltgrass (Distichlis spicata). During dry periods try tasting the Saltgrass - look for the dark salt crystals along the stem and leaves. The Yokuts Indians harvested this mineral to be used to season oak mush and preserve meat.

Valley Oak
3. Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) trees are the most prominent native tree species on the preserve. Mature Valley Oak trees can produce up to a ton of acorns in a good year and the Yokuts Indians valued them as a main food source. They used it for flour, mush, cakes, etc. They called the Valley Oak the "Mush Oak" but there’s a question as to hether it was because they made mush from the acorn or because the wood was soft and "mushy." The round growths on the stems of the Oak are wasp galls called "oak apples." On the other side of the path is a patch of the native Baltic Rush (Juncus balticus) and several very young Valley Oaks.

Santa Barbara Sedge
4. Santa Barbara Sedge (Carex barbarae) is an important native species here on the Preserve. It grows in large communities which the local Indians prize for basket weaving. It's not the green grassy part they use, but the long fibrous rhizomes (roots) they use for the baskets. Baskets were used in everyday life like we use bowls, plates, cups, buckets, etc.  

As you enter the "riparian forest" notice how different the plant species are from those growing in the alkali meadow. 


         Bull Thistle                 Poison Hemlock
5. Behind the young Valley Oak are intruders from Europe- the Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare), with its sharp hair-like spines; and a pretty but toxic herb from the carrot family- Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), with its lacy fern-like leaves and flower heads. Under your feet the path is lined with the very common Alkali Sedge (Carex densa), a native perennial herb.

 
Listen for Bewick's Wrens, Oak Titmouse, Spotted Towhees, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks. What other natural sounds do you hear in this woodland habitat? 

 
6) A colony of Cottontail Rabbits live underground in this area covered in spring with the lush non
-native Annual Rye Grass (Lolium multiflorum). Mammals that nest and live mostly underground are useful in keeping soil loose and permeable (able to absorb water). Mammals that live or take shelter underground here are ground squirrels, mice, gophers, voles, rabbits, moles, foxes, coyotes and badgers.

California Sycamore

 

7) The California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) is a very common species in the few remaining riparian forests of Central California. It only grows were the underground water table is high. Sycamores provide much needed habitat for the birds and insects that rely on these riparian and oak woodland habitats. The California Sycamore is long-lived, grows up to 100 feet tall and is deciduous (losing its leaves in the fall). The tree usually has multiple trunks that can be up to five feet in diameter. The leaves of this native species can be more than 18 inches across. 
 

 
8) The California Blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is making a comeback on the preserve since grazing has been halted on the trails. Because of its much smaller prickles (spines or thorns) the cattle find it very tasty. The berries ripen in early summer (May/June). Do you see the large vine growing around the young sycamore? It is the native California Grape (Vitis californica), whose sweet fruit ripen in October. These and other fruits provide food over a long season for much of our wildlife.The dead log is an interesting habitat, can you imagine some of the creatures that call it home?

 
9) Do you smell the musty scent of the Poison Hemlock?  This  toxic exotic herb can be fatal if eaten or absorbed through the skin. It has taken a foothold here and will be difficult to eradicate (get rid of), but we'll keep trying. 

The aggressive thorny vine growing nearby is the non-native Himalayan Berry (Rubus discolor). Its large sweet blackberries ripen in late summer and provide visitors and wildlife with delicious treats. 
 


California Mugwort
10) Listen for insects and birds near the creek, smell the pleasant herbal scent of the native California Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) growing in large colonies all around, and feel the cooler air  rising up from Deep Creek.  When water is in the creek you might observe a Great Blue Heron fishing for crawdads and frogs, or maybe you’ll see a Black Phoebe swooping over the water to catch insects, or wood ducks paddling downstream with their ducklings all in a row. 

There’s a bench around the curve; take time to rest and look at the bent oak and ponder what made it grow that way. 
 

11) Fallen oaks are a common occurrence at Kaweah Oaks Preserve. The Valley Oaks are heavily stressed by the fluctuating  groundwater table and this causes the tree to become susceptible to disease and fungi that weaken it from the inside out. The heartwood gets weak and mushy. You can clearly see that by looking at the fallen oak in the picnic area. A strong wind can be the final blow to a huge tree rotten on the inside. (A young (10-40 year old) Valley Oak's tap root can reach 60 feet deep, to reach for groundwater. But as the tree matures, the tap root sloughs off and the tree develops a multi-level (tiered) root 
system with feeder and sinker roots that permeate different layers in the soil, generally from two to four feet below the soil surface. Some of these roots extend out more than twice the drip line (where rain drips from the canopy of the tree). This allows the tree to avoid, rather than endure drought.) An important ecosystem all by itself, this dead giant serves as food and habitat to many living organisms. We leave dead trees lie where they fall because they play a vital role in the life cycle and food chain of the 
whole forest system.  Shhh... watch for blue-belly lizards here. 
 

Milk Thistle                              Poison Hemlock                               Bull Thistle
12) Many non-native invasive plant species have prospered here at Kaweah Oaks Preserve. Here we see Wild Plum trees, Himalayan Berry, Bull Thistle, and Milk Thistle. These were all imported from Europe and Asia perhaps on the fur of stock or mixed in with the wheat and barley seed. However they got here, it is an expensive and difficult problem that Californians must continually try to control. A few native herbs growing here are the Willow Herb, Stinging Nettle, White Hedge Nettle (the furry, square-stemmed herb),  and 
Baltic Rush

Willow Herb                               Stinging Nettle                                    Baltic Rush


 

13)Yerba Manza (Anemopsis californica) was called Lizard Tail by the Yokuts Indians. This native medicinal herb was highly prized for its healing characteristics. Today, it is enjoyed for its lovely bright white coneflowers that bloom in late May and June. It sends out long, pinkish runners that will take root at each leaf node, thereby freely reproducing itself. It is quite rare in the Central Valley except in alkali meadows.  

As you leave the riparian forest and re-enter the alkali meadow, notice the change of plant life. Can you tell where the creek runs by looking back at the trees? Do you remember which tree species grew closer to the water? Compare the plant life in the lower area as you look back toward the forest. 

 

14) Look at the big picture. Can you imagine yourself as an early settler and seeing this great valley for the first time? Everyday events were patches of brilliant wildflowers, great herds of antelope and huge flocks of pigeons - so many they would block out the sun. The native Yokuts and early settlers lived in harmony with the land and enjoyed its bounty. But now there is precious little open space left.  
 
Willow tree at Turtle Pond
15) Turtle Pond is located down the slope under the willow trees. Duckweed (Lemna minor) floats on the surface in hot weather. Before the Duckweed covers the surface you can watch water striders skate around on top of the water searching for mosquitoes and other small insects. Look for Western Pond Turtles warming themselves on the willow branches. Once a common site along most low elevation ponds and streams, the Western Pond Turtle is quietly disappearing from the California landscape. Over 90% of the freshwater ponds, marshes and year-round streams where these turtles once lived have been drained, diverted or developed. Where Western Pond Turtles can still be found, many reproduce, but can no longer maintain their population, the result of disturbed nesting grounds and predation of young turtles by non-native bullfrogs. Please stay a safe distance from the Turtle Pond in order to protect these threatened reptiles. View them with binoculars. 
 


We hope you have enjoyed your stroll along the Swamp Trail and have come to value this precious place even more than you did before visiting. Help keep Kaweah Oaks Preserve natural by leaving it as you found it and not disturbing the native wildlife. 
 
Visit our website at kaweahoaks.com for more information and study aides. Become a member of Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust and help protect this and other precious places in the southern Sierra foothills and the Tulare Valley. 

Donations are appreciated and tax-deductible. You can mail a contribution to: 

Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust
711 N. Court Street
Visalia, CA 93291 


 
Youth Conservation Award

Special thanks to Charter Oak School,  Ms. TenBroeck’s 6th and 7th grade classes of 2000 for reclaiming the Swamp Trail and developing this interpretive brochure. Congressman Cal Dooley presented them with the Lee Wilson Youth Conservation Award for their efforts. This fine trail was re-opened on May 13th at our annual Spring Banquet. The 6th grade students lead guided tours for the occasion.

David Black
Brandon Davidson
Garrett Kersey
Jessica McWilliams
Brittany Rodriguez
Milica Cosic
Melanie Greaver
Alex Loomis
Johnny O’Neal
Caile Salcynski
Liz Cox 
Lacey Harris 
Samantha Mayfield 
Brandi Phillips 
Chris Ulrich 


Congressman Cal Dooley presented Charter Oak School, Sixth Grade of 2000 
with the "Lee Wilson Youth Conservation Award" for reclaiming The Swamp Trail.
It was a long eight month process, but they finished it in time 
for the annual spring banquet in May, 2000.

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