Western Rivers Conservancy helped create a magnificent new nature Reserve in the Sierra Nevada foothills just east of the city of Chico. The 3,950-acre Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve now serves as an outdoor classroom and laboratory for California State University at Chico, which owns and manages the Reserve.
The first phase of the project was undertaken in August of 2000, when WRC purchased 2,724 acres of land along 2-1/2 miles of Big Chico Creek and turned it over to the Research Foundation of CSU, Chico. Phase two of the project was completed a year later, when WRC conveyed to the university an additional 1,226 acres along another 2-1/2 miles of creek. The Research Foundation, which donated a conservation easement over the entire Reserve, will study the life history of the wild runs of Sacramento River spring Chinook and winter steelhead as the basis for a long-term program of restoration.
Big Chico Creek drains out of the foothills of the northwestern Sierra Nevada Mountains, carving a 1,300-foot deep canyon before flowing through the town of Chico, and then joining with the Sacramento River. The Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve is a near-pristine cross section of a Sierra foothills watershed, from ridgeline to ridgeline. With five total miles of creek, lush riparian forests, oak woodlands, grassland meadows and basalt cliffs, the Reserve offers habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species, including many threatened and endangered species. The Reserve hosts some 175 species of birds, many of them with special protected status. A conservation easement over 4,000 acres adjoining the Reserve on the west guarantees winter habitat for the East Tehama herd of black-tailed deer, the only migratory herd in California. The Reserve also contains important habitat for the western pond turtle, foothill yellow-legged frog and mountain lions.
This project is a partnership among many players, private and public. Western Rivers Conservancy's purchase of Phase One - the 2,724-acre Simmons Ranch - was funded by grants from the Wildlife Conservation Board of the State of California, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. WRCs purchase of Phase Two, the Henning Ranch, was funded by the state Wildlife Conservation Board, the Packard Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Fund.
Photo credits: Cindy Diaz (1,2,4), Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve (3,5,6)
The Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve is a beautiful 3,950 acre tract of land in the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Chico, California. The Creek drains out of the foothills of the northwestern Sierra Nevada Mountains, carving a 1,300-foot deep canyon before flowing through Bidwell Park, a large city park in the the town of Chico, and then joining with the Sacramento River. The Reserve is a near-pristine cross section of a Sierra foothills watershed, from ridgeline to ridgeline.With five square miles of creek, lush riparian forests, oak woodlands, grassland meadows and basalt cliffs, the Reserve offers habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species, including many threatened and endangered species. The lands within the reserve were acquired by Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) in 2000 and 2001 and conveyed to the Research Foundation of the California State University for education, research, and natural resource protection.
While the reserve is managed primarily for education and research, public recreation use compatible with the Reserve’s primary mission is allowed. Hiking, wildlife and flower observation, fishing during the winter season, and hunting by permit are welcome at the Reserve. The provisions regulating public use of the land can be found on the reserve website. The reserve also has a conference center which is available for rent.
The reserve is located along California Highway 32 about 10 miles northeast of Chico. It can be accessed from Highway 32 or from a hiking trail at the north end of Bidwell Park. To get to the Highway 32 entrance, drive north from the Bruce Road/Highway 32 intersection in Chico for 9.7 miles. Turn left at the green 3521 sign and walk down a paved, single-lane road that disappears downhill. There is a parking area on Highway 32 just downhill from the green sign where you can leave your car. Follow this road to a gate, which is normally locked unless there is an organized event or tour going on in the reserve. Continue on through the gate into the reserve. If you are coming from the east, the turnoff is 2.4 miles from the Nopel Avenue intersection in Forest Ranch.
A map showing the trails within the reserve can be found on the reserve website.
You can contact the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve directly at 530-898-5010.