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At this moment in its history, the Sierra Foothill Conservancy is the proud owner of four nature preserves: the Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve at Black Mountain the McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve, the Tivy Mountain Preserve and the Austin & Mary Ewell Memorial Preserve at Fine Gold Creek. Although they are all located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Fresno County, they are remarkably diverse in their history, their topography, and their plant and animal life. In fact, they stand as splendid examples of the rich diversity of different habitat types in this region. SFC offers guided hikes on all three preserves.


Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve at Black Mountain

The Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve at Black Mountain is located between Prather and Tollhouse, on the south side of Lodge Road. Black Mountain is clearly visible from portions of the Highway 168 “four lane” to Shaver Lake. The preserve covers 992 acres plus a 70 acre conservation easement. You can reach the preserve by driving about three miles up Black Mountain Lane from the point where it joins Lodge Road, about four miles east of Prather.

The Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve has two quite distinct habitats: dense, woody chaparral on the north-facing slope and grassland/oak woodland on the south-facing slope. Because of its elevation, about 3600 feet above sea level, Black Mountain receives much more rain than Table Mountain. Once or twice a winter, it is white with snow. In fact, it receives about twice as much precipitation as the valley floor. As a result of this extra moisture, the plant life is abundant and extremely varied. In March, April and May, over a hundred different kinds of flowering plants, some quite rare, cover the slopes with their blooms. Animal life is correspondingly rich.

The preserve’s most distinctive plant is a large shrub with gorgeous white blooms called Carpenteria or Tree Anemone (Carpenteria californica), which flowers in early May. Carpenteria is a true rarity, growing in the wild only in the foothills between 2500 and 4000 feet elevation of central Fresno County and in one small area in Madera County.

Hiking on the Miller Preserve is easy, with much of it taking place on a dirt road. The distance from the preserve headquarters to the top of the mountain is about a mile and a half. An optional extension of the walk is a mile-long trail from near the summit to the eastern end of the ridge, making a round trip of about six miles. This preserve is especially recommended for families with children but strong hikers can find challenges here as well.



See March 1, 2006 Fresno Bee article
about the McKenzie Preserve

McKenzie Preserve at Table Mountain

The McKenzie Table Mountain Preserve (2960 acres) is located between Friant and Prather, on the north side of Auberry Road. The main gate is 3.3 miles uphill from the intersection of Auberry Road and Millerton Road.

The main body of the McKenzie Preserve consists of grassland and oak woodland sloping upward toward the basalt lava table lands which give the preserve its name. The preserve includes a significant portion of one of the flat-topped tables that are visible from the road. In the spring, rain water collects in the table’s low spots, forming vernal pools. Since the basalt is impermeable, these pools hold water for several weeks or months until it eventually evaporates. The pools provide habitat for rare plants and rare crustaceans which “come to life” in the presence of the water. When the pools dry up in late spring, these interesting organisms take on new forms (such as seeds or cysts) in order to survive the rest of the year. On the far side of the table formations, out of sight of Auberry Road, the land slopes steeply down to the San Joaquin River. These north-facing slopes sustain an excellent mix of pine forest and chaparral. In addition to the main body of the preserve on the north side of the road, the preserve also includes a 47-acre parcel along the creek on the south side. This smaller piece is being developed as a nature center which will host classes and school field trips.

The McKenzie Preserve was acquired in trust from The Nature Conservancy in 1998. The property had previously been placed in a trust by its owner, Ruth Bea McKenzie, who wanted it to remain in ranching and open space after her death. Most hikes on the preserve include a climb to the top of the table formation where visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the San Joaquin River drainage and the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the spring there are outstanding displays of wild flowers on the slopes and table tops. Trails at the low end of the preserve, including a 4 mile self-guided Discovery Trail along the ranch road and part of the old SJ&E railroad right of way, are suitable for easy walking. The climb to the top of the table is strenuous; the table top itself is level but walking is difficult because of the rocky surface. Total distance along the trail from the parking area to the top of the table is about six miles, round trip.



Tivy Mountain Preserve

The Tivy Mountain Preserve is located on the south side of the Kings River near the community of Piedra, in the southern part of Fresno County. It is on the south side of Elwood Road near its junction with Piedra Road. The preserve covers much of the north-facing slope of the mountain.

Using funds that were made available from the Central Valley Project Conservation Program of the Bureau of Reclamation, SFC purchased the first 40 acres in 1999. Since then, the preserve has been expanded to 825 acres.

The land was purchased for the specific purpose of rescuing a rare plant from the brink of extinction. Keck’s checkerbloom (Sidalcia keckii) is known to occur in only two places in the world: a small site zoned for residential development in Tulare County and the north-facing slope of Tivy Mountain. It is believed that much of the checkerbloom’s historic habitat was destroyed when soil was removed for the construction of Pine Flat Dam. The plant apparently grows only in an unusual type of soil which results from the weathering of serpentine rocks. The soil of Tivy Mountain also supports an unusually rich array of native perennial grasses.

Tivy Mountain has no established trails. Hikes to the summit of the mountain are very strenuous cross-country treks with an elevation gain of about 2300 feet over rocky terrain. However, the view from the top is splendid. SFC also conducts low-elevation walks to admire and photograph the spring flowers.


Austin & Mary Ewell Preserve on Fine Gold Creek

The Austin and Mary Ewell Preserve is Sierra Foothill Conservancy's newest preserve. It protects 718 acres of land and one and one half miles of lower Fine Gold Creek starting where it flows into Millerton Lake. Like most foothill streams Fine Gold does not flow in the summer, but it does maintain several large pools of water even in the hottest months. The Preserve was established with funding from Mr. Ben Ewell and his family, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Wildlife Conservation Board which is part of the California Department of Fish and Game. In addition to the riparian vegetation along the creek the Fine Gold Preserve protects Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetles and Western Pond Turtles and one of the few southern Sierra populations of the Dutchman's Pipe Vine Swallowtail butterfly.

See more pictures of Fine Gold Preserve.


The Sierra Foothill Conservancy is actively protecting other environmentally significant lands using conservation easements and mitigation banks. It also works with federal and state agencies and other organizations such as the Land Trust Alliance and the Trust for Public Land to promote conservation goals.