Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve serves as outdoor classroom

The responsibilities of being a UC Davis student can sometimes interfere with that nostalgic urge to just get outside and connect with nature.

A common compromise could be taking a stroll through the Arboretum. Multi-tasking by taking in the spring bloom and possibly making some progress on an assignment.

But there is another place not very far away from campus — another environmental refuge that encourages direct interaction with the deep natural history and habitat surrounding Yolo County: Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve.

Located 45 minutes west of Davis, between the Putah Creek State Wildlife Area and Lake Berryessa off Highway 128, Stebbins is a nature preserve operated by the University of California’s Natural Reserve System (NRS).

Before becoming a part of the NRS in 1980 a handful of UC Davis professors were using the space to take their classes out for natural history training in the 1960s and 70s, said Reserve Director Jeffrey Clary.

“There were investors that were going to develop the land into a dirt bike type of area until UC Davis purchased the land and it became an educational as well as recreational resource for UC Davis and the community,” Clary said.

Today, visitors can hike along Putah Creek, observe wildlife and conduct research.

Each year, entomology professor Susan Lawley has taken her freshwater microinvertebrates class to Stebbins to observe the abundance of Putah Creek’s aquatic insects.

“The creek is temporary for most of its length and fishes are excluded by a small waterfall downstream,” Lawley said. “Without fish predation, the insects are abundant and bold. We can see their adaptations to current and watch how they feed and get oxygen in an aquatic environment.”

While a good portion of the University of California reserve sites in the NRS are strictly designated for educational and research purposes, Stebbins is an exception, providing a natural refuge for both the surrounding community and UC Davis.

A three-mile loop is the only challenge that comes between the determined hiker and a rewarding view of Lake Berryessa. The well-maintained trail makes for a moderate trek along Putah Creek and its natural habitat. Also, if you decide that there is not enough time in the day for a three-mile trek, then the two-mile canyon hike may work just as well.

Guided hikes, which meet up at the gate at Highway 128 every Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m., are led by NRS staff as well as interns involved in the science education outreach program.

“The guided hikes have a conversational structure,” said Anna-Katarina Kennedy, a senior wildlife, fish, and conservation biology major. “Experts in geology, natural history, botany and entomology, will lead the hike, but it is completely open to all levels of input.”

One of the short-term goals for the science education outreach program is to have a self-sustaining student-led initiative that increases student and community awareness of what Stebbins has to offer, Clary said.

Clary and Kennedy said that some of the program’s long-term goals are to enrich the diversity of the reserve’s use such as using the reserve for various exercise classes, yoga classes, poetry readings or guided night hikes.

“Because Stebbins is an extension of the campus, it just makes sense for students to be taking ownership of an initiative both to educate themselves and to educate the community,” Clary said.

To find out more activities offered at Stebbins, visit http://nrs.ucdavis.edu/stebbins.html.

DOMINICK COSTABILE can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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