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Where the cosumnes still runs wild.

Where the Cosumnes still runs wild

On the eastern edge of the Sacramento-- San Joaquin Delta, 25 miles north of Stockton, a 3-mile stretch of the Cosumnes River proves a wild anomaly in an otherwise domesticated landscape. For miles around, fields have been cleared and laser-leveled to get optimum crop yields. But here wild grapes and blackberries run riot, and cottonwoods and valley oaks spread overhead and block the sky.

A hundred years ago, such a riverbank tangle of trees and vines was a common sight in California. But today, only a 10th of 1 percent of the state's original riparian forests remains. For that reason, The Nature Conservancy set aside this land as part of its $20 million Wild California program, intended to preserve threatened plant and animal communities. Dedicated last May, the 935-acre Cosumnes River Preserve is now open to the public, with a short nature trail and guided hikes.

This forest's luxuriance is water-born. The largest undammed river in the Central Valley, the Cosumnes still floods in winter and spring, depositing its soil-enriching silt. (Flood waters also drown gophers that otherwise might pose a threat to young oak trees.) Buttonbush grows at the river's edge. Soil 6 inches to 3 feet above the water table supports willows and cottonwoods; that from 4 to 6 feet above the water table is prime valley oak terrain.

The preserve also has fresh-water marshes. From late September into the winter, they host a concentration of sand-hill cranes, numbers of Canada and Ross's geese, and many species of ducks.

For now, much of the preserve--including the most impressive oak groves--can be seen only on the guided tours. The first tour is on Saturday, October 10, at 10 A.M.; others will be scheduled for later in the fall. For reservations, call (916) 686-6982. Also scheduled for late October is an acorn-gathering session, the first step in a reforestation program to establish new stands of valley oaks.

You can see one portion of the preserve any time, without taking a guided tour, by hiking on the 1/4-mile Willow Slough Trail, which leads past thick lines of Goodding willows to a small pond. (In the future, this trail may be extended into the preserve's main tract.) To reach the trail from Interstate 5, exit east on Twin Cities Road; in 1 mile, turn right (south) on Franklin Boulevard and go 1 1/4 miles. The trail starts on the east side of the road.

Photo: Luxuriant canopy of valley oak limbs festooned with grapevines graces Cosumnes Preserve. Above, bulbous oak galls grow on trees in irritated reaction to wasp larvae
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Title Annotation:Cosumnes River Preserve
Date:Oct 1, 1987
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