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Nature Preserve Near Fresno Delights Foothill Visitors

Mar 12, 2013

On the edge of a region in California known for agriculture and dairy, lays a hidden gem.  A wildlife preserve with Table top foothills, that in spring are awash in color from budding wild flowers.

On Saturday, the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, a local group that manages a number of foothill preserves in the region held a special open house at the group’s largest operation.   

The McKenzie Preserve – in-between Friant and Prather – was open to the public for exploring and a hike up a flat top lava formed table in the region.

“Good Morning. Hi, wanna please sign in before you start up the hill. ”

That was Bea Olsen, the board president for the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.

A couple hundred people followed a well-worn three and a half mile path to the base of a table top and then hiked up the steep face of the hill, before they reached the top of the plateau.

"I'd say it's pretty much a gem, I don't know how hidden it is, but it's pretty nice. If I lived up here I'd be up here as much as you could be." - Steve Beck

“We’re out here to open up the property to get people connected to foothill woodlands and these beautiful lands here in the Sierra Nevada.”

That was Rodney Olsen, board member for the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.

On top of the hill the view is endless, almost as if the Valley floor rose 1,000 feet.  Olsen, who is also a biologist, says the reason the tables exist is because of lava.

“The story goes. We have a lava flow, which flowed down the ancestral San Joaquin River and as it flowed down it capped in the river bed and overtime we think this probably between nine and 10 million years we had an erosion of the surrounding country side rock. And so you get this inverted typography, where what was once a river channel or river bottom is now up at the top of the hill.”

Visitors couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to explore the preserve.

“We’re trying to figure out what we are looking at here. We haven’t found the wildlife expert we are looking for. So we’re up here looking at this little red kind of succulent here.”

That’s Steve Beck and Pamela Jergens. They traveled from Southern California to visit the preserve on the advice of family.

“Very impressive, I wasn’t expecting this. It was a little much for my legs, but up at the top the views are really nice. The wildflowers are just starting to come out. You can see some blankets of yellow and the lupine. Yeah, we don’t have lupine in Southern California.”

Mike Stafford had wanted to climb the hill since he was a child. Sunday was his lucky day.

“It wasn’t that bad of a walk up. I had friends that would come up here; I never come up here myself. It was always we came up to the table top, how come you didn’t come with us. The climb was good. I liked how they identified stuff.”

The only gripe besides the sudden incline visitors mentioned was that the preserve isn’t often open to the public.  

“I wish they would have a season of maybe two weekends in a row per month or two days in a row where so that you could come up in March, April and May and then close it off when it gets dry and then start it again for a couple of months in November.”

That was Cindy Lorente, who lives near the preserve.

But despite minor complaints, the visitors hiked up and down the hill successfully.

“I’d say it’s pretty much a gem, I don’t know how hidden it is, but it’s pretty nice. If I lived up here I’d be up here as much as you could be.”

The conservancy also holds specials classes and two more special public days this season.

“People may think they may not be able to make it. I mean, darn, I’m 61 and I can make it. This one keeps on complaining about, you’re too slow. But if you take your time you can get here and it’s well worth the walk up.”