In dual effort to keep to resolutions that were once again made at the start of the new year, I made the commitment with a friend to get outdoors with our families and get some more exercise for ourselves while we were at it. The perfect solution came in the form of Jordan Summers book 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Sacramento. Together we have a mix of kindergarten age kids, toddlers and babies so it was important to use the book as a guide to scout out the locations. It helped us plan for what amenities were available (restrooms, picnic areas), how far from home we would be, if the locations had stroller accessible trails, etc…
And so in the first week of the new year we were off on our first adventure: Cosumnes River Preserve. It is easily accessed off of Highway 5 and clearly marked with large signs. We stopped at the first turnout and found a beautiful and peaceful wetland that was teeming with all different species of birds. There was also a great deal of other visitors there that were enjoying a nice stroll, photographing the birds, or cataloging the species they observed through their binoculars. It is a welcoming wetland preserve where all of the chirps and honks from the birds sound cheerful, and the planked boardwalk beckons you to come see what it has to offer.
We geared up and set off on the short boardwalk hike that is just south of the visitor’s center. Being January, it was a crisp Winter day, but it was clear and the sun shone above. The birds and the people alike were basking in the warm rays and taking in the sounds and sights of the preserve. The kids were charged with a sense of adventure and took off down the boardwalk laughing as the birds scattered in their wake. We could hear frogs that were hiding somewhere amongst the small, vibrant lily pads, the whisper of the creeping wild rye as it blew in the breeze, and the sing song quack of ducks as they meandered along the waterways.
Out in the slough were many sandhill cranes that come along with many other species to winter at the preserve. The kids liked seeing them because they were bright white against the gray/brown of the grasses and easy to spot even without their binoculars. The boardwalk area provided a nice overview of the wetlands and Cosumnes river wildlife with nice benches to sit and take it all in.
We continued on foot back up to the boardwalk parking area and continued on the paved path to the visitors center. In Winter it is common for the ponds in the slough to flood and half of the parking lot and boat launch were under water. It was quiet in the parking lot as many visitors parked in the other areas because of the flooding. It provided us with the chance to see a beautiful great blue heron fairly up close. We approached until it got spooked and flew away into the array of willow tree species that are found here.
At the foot of the visitors center we encountered a lovely little family of rabbits that were enjoying some of the fresh grass. The visitors center is located in a beautiful section of the slough and is serene and breathtaking even when the trees are naked of their leaves. The center has a sturdy wrap around deck with educational plaques all the way around that tell you about the sloughs, and wetlands that you are looking upon. Hummingbird feeders hung from the rafters and brought quick and colorful visitors. There are picnic tables all around the deck and it was a welcomed place to take a break and have a snack.
After refueling we checked the white board at the entrance to the building that invited visitors to make notes of the plants and wildlife they had encountered that day during their visit. Lots of visitors had encountered the rabbits, but also teals, herons, mallards, sparrows, beavers, otters and even a bald eagle. It was a nice touch to see what others had observed and to add our finds to the board as well. Something like this makes visitors feel as if they are in on some kind of wildlife scavenger hunt.
We walked inside the visitors center and were greeted by an amazing display of knowledge and wildlife. From the roots of the American Indian tribes that frequented the lands to the many species of birds and other animals that live in the wetlands it was all there in living color and most of the displays are hands on. The kids and the adults alike loved the table of all the items that you could touch and hold. There was deer horns, bird claws, snake skins, animal pelts, rocks, feathers, gourds and sticks. One of the favorite exhibits was where you blindly stick your hand in a hole to feel and see if you could identify the object inside. We also found tons of literature that was provided on the trails and waterways. Two of my favorites are the self guided tour that provides information for each numbered marker along the Wetlands walk and River walk, as well as the Field Checklist for the Birds of the Cosumnes River Preserve. The checklist is a great tool when going birding in this area and I strongly recommend picking one up if you plan to visit the preserve and especially is you plan to visit during different seasons.
We left the visitors center and continued out on the Wetlands walk. It is an amazing mix of riparian forest, old oaks, and wetland grasses that winds through the waterways. We came to the bridge that would lead to Willow Slough and marveled at the iron rubbing plates of all of the species in the water and wildlife that you may encounter here. Next time I will definitely bring paper and materials to utilize these plates and have my son have some rubbings to take home as educational souvenirs. We continued over the bridge to the opening of the 30 acres of freshwater seasonal marsh and followed the trail as far as we could before it was closed due to flooding.
We turned our crew around and enjoyed the last of our hike as we made it back along the planked walkways and paved paths to our cars. It was a refreshing and nurturing experience that I would recommend to anyone. It is a very kid friendly area, with restrooms in a couple different locations (that are usually open) lots of wildlife for them to see throughout the different seasons, and amazing hands on activities to keep them interested and learning in the outdoors. We plan to return during the spring and summer to see some of the plants like the wild California roses in bloom and experience all of the butterfly species that visit the fennel in the spring and summer.
This preserve is free and open to the public from sunrise to sunset. Donations for printing costs and habitat restoration are appreciated and accepted in the visitors center. The Cosumnes River Preserve is a great place that offers the best of wildlife viewing, natural habitats, riparian forests, grasslands, wetlands, and just plain relaxation and appreciation of the outdoors. The preserve also offers canoe’s and kayakers a wonderful place to paddle. Go and enjoy it with your family.
For more information on Jordan Sparks book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Sacramento, please visit: http://store.trailmix.net/p-465-60-hikes-within-60-miles-sacramento.aspx
For more information on the Cosumnes River Preserve, please visit: http://www.cosumnes.org/
For directions to the preserve, please visit: http://www.cosumnes.org/about_crp/location.htm
To view more photos from our visit to the preserve, please visit the Cow Patties and Mud Pies gallery on our Facebook fan page at: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=193357427343671&set=a.193357290677018.51548.122481214431293#!/album.php?aid=51548&id=122481214431293