Please drive carefully and be attentive to other traffic. Unrestricted public access on the Preserve is currently limited to two developed trails (described below). Much of the site is accessible only by guided tours. In addition, some of the acreage is under farming leases, and there are several private properties located adjacent to the Preserve. Please Do Not Trespass.
The Lower Cosumnes River: Nestled along the last free-flowing river within the Central Valley, the Cosumnes River Preserve boasts one the state's few remaining examples of pristine native Central Valley habitat and wildlife. Less than five percent of this historic habitat exists today, the rest having been converted for agriculture and urbanization. Urbanization pressures remain high in the Cosumnes River basin.
Due to the nature of the unregulated river, Preserve visitors can witness the dynamic natural processes and abundant biological diversity that characterized much of the Central Valley prior to European settlement. Here where the uplands merge with the Sacramento Delta, a rich mosaic of grassland, freshwater marsh, mixed riparian forest and valley oak woodland, provides significant habitat for wildlife, as well as important opportunities for research, education and recreation.
The Preserve's location on the Pacific Flyway — the migration route used by more than 60 percent of North America's migratory birds — as well as its variety of habitats within the river's floodplain results in a wide variety of resident and migratory wildlife species inhabiting the area. Wildlife viewing opportunities vary with seasonal changes.
In addition, while the major roadways generally remain open, many sections of the Preserve (including the two developed trails) can become impassible during the flood season in late winter and early spring.
1. The Visitor Center and Wetland Boardwalk Trail: Surrounded by wetlands and mixed riparian forest, the Preserve's Visitor Center is located on Franklin Road, approximately 2 miles south of Twin Cities Road. The building was originally constructed in 1993, but in December 1995, an arson fire completely destroyed it. Within two years the center was rebuilt and reopened. It is the central meeting place on the Preserve, and provides visitors with interpretive displays and information about the Preserve's habitats and wildlife. It is open most weekends from 10 AM to 4 PM. Across Franklin Road, the Wetland Boardwalk Trail is open to the public daily from 10 AM to 4 PM. The short walk along the boardwalk to the viewing platform offers visitors a firsthand journey into wetland habitat. Visible in and around the tule-filled marshes, some common bird species include pintails, mallards, American coots, cinnamon teals, great blue herons, great egrets, red-winged blackbirds, black-necked stilts, wrens and American bitterns.
2. Franklin Road north past Willow Slough: Shortly after turning north onto Franklin Road, the Willow Slough Trail head is located on the right. This self-guided nature trail provides river access and is open to the public daily during daylight hours. The 3-mile round trip trail loops along marshes and the river and through "jungle-like" riparian and valley oak forests. It is not unusual to see mammal tracks and scat and a variety of raptors soaring above the tree canopies. Please stay on the trail.
3. North on Franklin Road, right on Desmond Road: Turn right on Desmond Road, drive over the railroad tracks. The seasonal and permanent wetlands on the left and right are owned by Ducks Unlimited and the Bureau of Land Management. They are managed exclusively for water bird habitat and feed. During the winter, hundreds of thousands of water birds can be seen using the ponds. Some overwinter at the site, while others stop to rest and feed before winging their way further down the Pacific Flyway. This is is a favorite feeding ground for many raptors, especially the northern harrier, which glides low over the marshlands in search of prey. The gate on your right leads to "The Barn," the staging area for habitat restoration activities at the Preserve.
4. Desmond Road east, left on Bruceville Road: At the end of Desmond Road, turn left on Bruceville Road. The ranch house on your right serves as the office of the Preserve's Farm Program. Initiated in 1996, the innovative and organic program invites wildlife by growing beneficial crops and by providing habitat buffer zones between cultivated fields. Currently some 600 acres of rice are being grown, and another 400 acres of the Preserve's cropland will ultimately be included in the program by 1999.
The rice fields on the left and right are favorite hangouts for sandhill cranes during their winter stay on the Preserve, generally from October to February.
5. Bruceville Road, right on Twin Cities Road: Turn right from Bruceville onto Twin Cities Road. The two extensive agriculture parcels on your right are privately owned and operated. However, The Nature Conservancy has conservation easements on these properties. Conservation easements preserve beneficial habitat by restricting farmers from planting vineyards or orchards. East on Twin Cities Road, after passing a sand mining operation on your right, you will cross several bridges. These waterways are a couple meandering channels of the Cosumnes River as well as Laguna Creek. During high flood flows, it is not uncommon for the channels to merge together. A variety of wildlife uses these riparian corridors, including great horned owls, black-tailed deer, raccoons, fall-run Chinook salmon, coyotes, mountain lions, Swainson's hawks, beavers, river otters and numerous water birds. Immediately past the last bridge on your left, Laguna Creek flows southeasterly through a series of ponds and marshes toward the road. This property and the vast grassland north of Laguna Creek is currently under purchase option by The Nature Conservancy. Down the road past the power lines on the left is a large area of cultivated land. This property and the grassland beyond is the site for the proposed Sun Lakes Village, a 1,500-acre retirement community, subdivision development currently under review by the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and the City of Galt.
6. North on Highway 99: Continue east to Highway 99. Take Highway 99 north, past Arno Road. You are driving through The Nature Conservancy's Valensin Ranch, which encompasses some 4,400 acres on both sides of the freeway. On the left is the western section of the ranch. This 1,200-acre parcel supports marshes, grasslands, a heritage valley oak woodland and 300 acres of cultivated crop land. A section of the parcel lies along the river. On your right is the eastern section of the ranch. You will see Horseshoe Lake, fed by Badger Creek. In the spring and summer hundreds of herons and egrets breed in colonies high atop the oaks. The dead trees, or snags, around the lake's perimeter reveal that the water level is higher today than historically. This may be the result of drainage changes, occurring when Highway 99 was constructed. This entire section of freeway was submerged and closed for two days during the 1997 Flood.
7. Highway 99, east on Dillard Road: Exit Highway 99, east on Dillard Road. Where Dillard Road meets Highway 99, the ranch extends approximately two miles west, one mile south and four miles northeast. A resident female red-shouldered hawk often perches in the tree on your left or along the power lines. Throughout the ranch and its adjacent lands, migrant Swainson's hawks appear to outnumber other raptor varieties during their breeding season in the spring and summer. On the ranch, six Swainson's hawk nest sites have been documented. After passing a private property, you will see an old dairy site. During the 1997 Flood, this property was the only one along this stretch of Dillard Road to remain dry. This property is part of the Costello / Cantrell Ranch, which extends north to the river and contains pristine oak woodland, mixed riparian forest and agriculture land. The property was proposed for the development of two 18-hole golf courses, but is now owned by The Nature Conservancy.
8. Dillard Road East: Follow Dillard Road past the dairy. The Valensin Ranch is located on both sides of the street, stretching as far as you can see on the right and to the riparian forest line along Deer Creek to the left. A large portion of the ranch's eastern section is grassland. Nearly all of the ranch's grasslands have been spared from the plow and remain native topography. As a result, the area is rich in vernal pools. This vast grassland is home to a variety of wildlife. Watch for American kestrels and western meadowlarks on the fence posts as well as red-tailed and Swainson's hawks roosting atop the scattered mature oak trees. Geese and sandhill cranes can also be seen foraging on the grass in the fall and winter. Coyote populations are high on the ranch. Both resident packs and nomadic individuals can often be spotted in the mornings and evenings hunting ground squirrels and other small prey on the grassland.
9. Right on Riley Road to Arno Road: Turn right onto Riley Road. The ranch is located on your right. This is a good place to note the difference between leveled farmland and native topography. A resident pair of white-tailed kites can often be seen hovering over the grassland in search of rodents, insects and reptiles. Past the cluster of eucalyptus trees, the ranch is on both sides of the road. The road crosses the north and middle fork of Badger Creek. Initial restoration efforts on the ranch will focus on these stream corridors. Many bird and mammal species inhabit these waterways and the adjacent uplands, including red-winged, tricolored and Brewer's blackbirds, beaver, coyote, raccoon, opossums, badger, ground squirrels and assorted water bird and songbirds. Riley Road merges with Arno Road, which further south takes a 90 degree turn to the west.
10. Arno Road west: After a short stretch of cultivated land, the Valensin Ranch is again on your right. More than 150 years ago, the ranch supported a town named Hicksville that served as a supply depot for prospectors and an entertainment and social center for area residents. The town was owned by Billy Hicks, a man who helped rescue survivors of the Donner Party and who was one of the largest landowners in California. Hicks' property was said to stretch from several miles west of today's Highway 99 to well past the town of Ione in Amador County. The cemetery plot on your right was donated more than 120 years ago by the Hicks / Valensin Family. The cemetery serves as an important burial site for Cosumnes Miwok. It also serves as a non-Native American cemetery. It is open to the public.
11. Arno Road to Highway 99 north: Arno Road ends at Highway 99, where you have the option of turning north or south. If you head north, you will again pass through the heart of the Preserve's Valensin Ranch, with Horseshoe Lake on your right. Continuing north just past Dillard Road, you will cross the overflow channel of the Cosumnes River. This was the river's primary route prior to 1920. Several agriculture tracts exist in the area, yet there are also many stands of heritage oak woodland and mixed riparian forest. On your right is the Cantrell / Costello Ranch. Watch for foxes and black-tailed deer strutting through the oak woodland and agriculture fields. Immediately after crossing over the Cosumnes River, on your right is the proposed project site for the "Riverwalk," a substantial subdivision and golf course development currently under review by Sacaramento County.
Directions: From Sacramento, CA, Take Interstate 5 to Twin Cities Road exit (midway between Sacramento and Stockton). Travel Twin Cities Road east about a mile to Franklin Boulevard. Head south on Franklin Boulevard traveling past Desmond Road to reach nature trails and visitor center.
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