Thursday, April 24, 2014

At the pond: Little-known treasures await you

February 25, 2011 | Leave Comment

A cyclist who has braved the fog, now being lifted by sun, practices hill climbing along Highway 28. Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

Isn’t it easy to cocoon on these chilly, damp, gray days? But today I wish to give you a nudge toward trying a little resistance exercise. Get out there on the next so-called bad weather day and visit your local watershed. Break out of your comfort zone, go to a seldom-visited area and you will experience surprises and get an attitude shift.

Someone nudged me. The results were so positive that I wish to extend the nudge to you. My activity involved bicycling; yours may involve walking, photographing, hiking or fishing. Or maybe you just want to sit on a bench and observe.

In January, Deb Ford, a Davis Bike Club volunteer who loves climbing hills on a bicycle, put out an offer. She would lead an eight-week beginning hill-climbing series on Sunday mornings during January and February. The goal would be a field trip to climb Mount Diablo, just shy of 4,000 feet by the end.

Was she ever surprised: Fifty people showed up in Winters ready to ride at 9 a.m. on Jan. 9 in 35-degree weather. We went for a ride that took us south of Winters for hills and eventually along Putah Creek. On the first ride, she promised us that we would see a male bufflehead, a striking black-and-white duck able to puff its feathers out to create a bulbous, buffalo-like head. We saw them. She set a positive tone and urged us to have fun and make friends, and we did. Each week, the rides got more challenging.

I love cycling several times a week on Davis flat land. I bike the hills when it is part of a tour or special event ride. But this was about progressively difficult hill climbing with mid-week homework. It took us up our watershed, up Putah Creek. It took us past the dam that holds all of that water in Lake Berryessa with its 165 miles of shoreline. All of that water used to flow right through Davis where Borders Books now stands. It’s hard to believe we have engineered such plumbing experiences.

Climbing the hill up to the Monticello Dam and farther on to the next hill, aptly named Cardiac, is especially beautiful in the fog. Mountains are half-hidden. A lone tree is silhouetted and says, “Look at me.” There is stillness. The traffic is thankfully sparse at this time of the year. I would not do this on a weekend summer day with all of the boat traffic.

There is more wildlife viewing on these wintry days. On one foggy day, a fox crossed the road and stopped to turn around and watch me. It moved on when I went to photograph it. At Pleasant Valley Road and Highway 128, a peacock crossed in front of me. Climbing over Cantelow, we spotted three deer. And when Carol Bourne and I did a midweek stop at Lake Solano, we got to watch a river otter.

I felt smug in having a good time and doing something so healthy for my body and my aging brain. The current stars in brain science research are exercise — to pump blood through brain vessels and create new brain cells — and to embrace the new — to get new brain pathways/connections. For those new brain pathways, we need to get out of our own comfort zone. I practiced both by going new routes in the coastal hills and huffing and puffing up those steep grades. I was pushed to work in a way I can’t make myself work on our flat valley floor.   I now have a new repertoire of beautiful, challenging riding routes.

On one ride, I passed people planting trees and shrubs at Putah Creek Access Point No. 4. They were volunteers coordinated by Jeanette Wrysinski, senior program manager for the Yolo County Resource Conservation District. She is a UC Davis grad who has worked in conservation for more than 30 years. They were planting California natives. The trees are valley oak, live oak, Oregon ash, box elder and cottonwood. The shrubs are redbud, toyon, elderberry and buckeye. They are restoring a habitat that will bring in more birds, bees and important insects.

Want to explore some little-known treasures? There are five access points on 150 acres along a 3.25-mile stretch of Putah Creek and State Highway 128, seven miles west of Winters. There are picnic tables, barbecues, parking and sanitary facilities. A day use fee is $6. Restoration and revegetation is happening along the whole stretch.

Some of the sites are connected so you can walk along the creek. They are handicapped-accessible. At Site No. 4, at either end, there is a paved path down to the stream with viewing platforms. There are new benches for watching the water and listening to it.

You may see a golden eagle, an osprey, ducks, geese and river otters. And as you visit it regularly, you will find the delight of each season. Right now, there are the bright red toyon berries. Overnight camping is allowed at two of the sites. Go to the Yolo County website for reservations.

The improvement at the access points has been a cooperative venture by many agencies. The funding for the improvements come from a grant funded by Proposition 84 monies. The county, the Resource Conservation District and the Putah Creek Council all played a part. And the California Conservation Corps’ weed strike team worked in advance to remove invasive plants such as tree of heaven. Unfortunately, grant monies for the Yolo RCD run out in March.

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident; her column appears monthly. Reach her at


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