BLAUERT: Enjoy the colors of spring at Sierra Foothill Conservancy

April 9, 2013 

Looking for something to do this spring before the wildflower season is over? The Sierra Foothill Conservancy has a lot of hikes, classes, and family activities planned on its Mariposa County preserves and conservation easements.

During the past year I've featured two of the Conservancy's Fresno County properties: Table Mountain and Black Mountain.

While these may be the Conservancy's best-known lands, the Conservancy also owns two preserves and several conservation easements in Mariposa County.

It's a great arrangement -- the property remains a productive part of our state's economy as rangeland for cattle, but the general public can enjoy it on special days. The landowners who have sold or donated conservation easements to the Conservancy aren't required to allow public access through SFC-organized hikes and activities, but many generously choose to do so.

An easy drive from home, the Conservancy's Mariposa County preserves and easements offer recreation, education, family-friendly events, and an exciting opportunity to visit some special parts of the Sierra foothills that have been nearly inaccessible in the past.

Events are scheduled from this weekend through June 15. Group size is generally small, averaging 8-12 people for recent Mariposa County hikes and activities.

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy has a great website with a lot of information and an easy registration process for hikes, classes, and activities. You can go to http://www.sierrafoothill.org/ or call (209) 742-5556 for the Mariposa office.

Hikes are free for members and only $5 for nonmembers. Classes are $10 for members ($20 for family groups) and $15 for nonmembers ($30 for family groups). Membership is only $50 a year and well-worth considering if you plan to visit several of the Conservancy's lands.

Although this winter was unusually dry, there are some surprising displays of wildflowers throughout the foothills. SFC lands are a great place to enjoy some of what this year offers. Seven of SFC's Mariposa preserves and easements offer activities this spring:

Trabucco Ranch is a rolling oak woodland near the town of Bear Valley. A naturalist hike is offered on Saturday, April 13 and a photography class designed for families with children of all ages on Sunday. Both include relatively easy hikes of 2-3 miles.

Striped Rock is a large granitic dome south of Mariposa that sits in a blue oak woodland. A challenging 6-mile round trip hike to the top is offered on April 20. The view is well-worth the climb!

The Von der Ahe easement is located north of Highway 49 near Bootjack. It features pines, oaks, wildflowers, and a seasonal creek. A family-oriented wildflower hike of about three miles is scheduled for April 27.

The Stockton Creek Preserve is the Conservancy's newest Mariposa County preserve. It will be formally dedicated on May 11 and the public is invited to participate in the ceremony and hike the four miles of trails within the preserve.

Adjacent to the town of Mariposa, this property will be open to the public daily after the dedication ceremony. Stockton Creek is the water source for the town of Mariposa and it is impounded by a reservoir within the preserve. The landscape is oak and chaparral, with wide vistas from the highest points on the trail. This is a moderate hike if you take the trail at your own pace.

Clark's Valley is a mixed pine forest near Darrah that consists of ponderosa pines, cedars, black oaks, and meadows. A family hike is offered on May 18, and a more challenging hike is offered on April 28. A birding class is offered on May 25, and a class on native plants and traditional uses will be taught by Bill Leonard, a local Miwuk, on June 1.

Later in June (date yet to be determined), an astronomy night will be offered at the Bohna Ranch near Catheys Valley. Fresno City College instructor Garrett Wimer will provide his night sky expertise and there will be plenty of telescopes set up.

On June 15, a hike will be offered to the top of Feliciana Mountain in the Conservancy's Feliciana Mountain Preserve. Views from the top include the Merced River Canyon and the surrounding landscape.

SFC's activities are led by naturalists and other experts who have helped to expand my understanding and appreciation of our local foothills. One of the greatest benefits of participating in SFC events is learning about plants, animals, astronomy, and history.

In addition to SFC activities in Mariposa County, quite a few hikes, classes, and activities are scheduled for SFC's Fresno County properties from this weekend through mid-May. These include:

McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve: April 13, 14, 20 and 28; Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve at Black Mountain: April 14, May 4, 11; Austin and Mary Ewell Fine Gold Creek Preserve: April 27; Tivy Mountain Preserve: April 21.

Adam Blauert is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys fishing, backpacking and exploring the western states. He can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com

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