The Kaweah Oaks Preserve
|the stream ("pond") where Mitch told me to go cool off one morning|
The Kaweah Oaks Preserve is the remains of the last riparian forest (woodlands along rivers) in California. It has been preserved so visitors can imagine what the now-dry valley looked like 200 years ago, before the settlers came. Today, the oak forest covers only 322 acres, but in Andi’s day valley oak, sycamore, cottonwood, willows, blackberries, and wild grape covered hundreds of square miles, from the base of the Sierra Nevada range to the banks of Tulare Lake.
Early settlers called this land “The Swamp” because of frequent flooding and the high water table. The original people, the Yokut Indians, never made their homes in these wetlands but instead hunted, fished, and foraged for the wildlife and plant life they found here. The valley oaks in this area were also a source of the Yokuts’ most important food—acorns.
Abundant wildlife once thrived in these woodlands: birds—herons, hawks, owls, ducks, song birds, woodpeckers, crows, vultures, and quails; mammals—gray fox, bobcat, coyotes, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and skunks; as well as insects, amphibians, and reptiles.
By the mid-19th century, settlers were using this land mostly for cattle grazing, hunting, and wood-cutting. One family wanted to plant walnut trees in the area of the current preserve. Eventually, a dam was built in 1962, which put an end to the flooding, but the water table was too high to grow walnut trees successfully. Finally, the land was sold to a conservation group and has been kept just the way it was in the past.
If you have ever driven through the San Joaquin Valley around Visalia, you may find it hard to believe that this area was once teeming with water and wildlife. With a nickname like “The Swamp,” it is easy to see why I was plagued by countless mosquitoes when she traveled through this wet, woodlands region.
If you would like a fun maze, help Andi get out of the Kaweah swamps in one piece. Download and print out the picture by clicking on it. Have fun!
|a valley oak leaf|