Stebbins reserve reopens to public

by Kat Kerlin, UC Davis

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Nearly one year after the Wragg Fire burned UC Davis’ Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve and forced its closure, the reserve has reopened to the public. 

When the Wragg Fire ignited on July 22, 2015, the 638-acre reserve was first in its path. It ripped through the reserve, burning cottonwoods, thick patches of chaparral, iconic blue oaks and railroad ties built into the trail.

Stebbins reopens
A California poppy blossoms at Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve. Image credit: Chris Nicolini/UC Davis

Before the fire, the reserve served as an outdoor laboratory and classroom for students and scientists from UC Davis and elsewhere. Located just about 30 minutes west of Davis and bordering the newly designated Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, it is also a locally beloved natural space, welcoming roughly 65,000 visitors each year.

“The fire has been a reset button,” said Jeffrey Clary, Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve director. “We have the chance to build a culture of learning and respect for the resource with our visitor community.”

A few changes

UC Natural Reserve System staff members have worked closely with UC Davis students as well as volunteers from other regional groups dedicated to the outdoors, such as the nonprofit Tuleyome. Together, they have helped restore trails, build steps that burned in the fire, remove brush and relocate the parking area.

Stebbins reopens
Reserve director Jeffrey Clary stands at the entrance to Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve in December 2015. Image credit: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

Returning visitors will find much that is familiar, but there are some key changes:

  • Parking. Visitors will no longer need to cross the highway to get from their car to the reserve. Pay attention to new signage that guides visitors to a new parking area below the entrance.
  • Construction. Some construction is still in progress, such as fencing and signage. Reserve staff asks for patience as more permanent changes are made.
  • It will be hotter. While much of the fire’s blackness has given way to greenery, the absence of several trees means there is less shade than before. People should bring plenty of water, wear a hat and try to avoid visiting during the hottest parts of the day.
  • No dogs. The reserve is a protected research site, and dogs are not allowed on the trail.

Wragg to riches

While the wildfire presented several challenges to Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve, Clary said it also presented some opportunities.

The fire gave us a chance to do trail work that’s hard to do when you have a large number of public out there,” Clary said. “It gave us the open space to revisit the parking situation and access to the site. All of those things were able to happen because the place got a time out.”

Lupins are among the many new plants flourishing after fire at Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve. Image credit: Chris Nicolini/UC Davis
Lupins are among the many new plants flourishing after fire at Stebbins Cold Canyon Natural Reserve. Image credit: Chris Nicolini/UC Davis

Stebbins Cold Canyon is one of 10 natural reserves in the UC system and one of the few open for public recreation. Scientists use UC Natural Reserves as outdoor laboratories and classrooms, researching everything from wildlife health to water quality, climate change, plant sciences, entomology and land management.

Since the fire, scientists have also begun a number of postfire ecology research projects, which could help Western states better understand and prepare for wildfires in the future.

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