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Get outside, stay healthy, stay apart

We are all doing our best to stop the spread of COVID-19, which means social distancing and staying at home as much as you are able. But you can still go outside and enjoy nature in your backyard, your neighborhood, and in parks and trails in your community.

Social distancing in nature looks the same as it does when you must visit the grocery store — maintain 6 to 8 feet of space from others, don’t go out if you are sick, and don’t gather in groups except for the family unit that you live with. Taking a walk in nature is good for your physical and mental health and can reduce anxiety levels.

Looking for a quiet and accessible place to go that doesn’t require a long drive or much planning? The Feather River Land Trust (FRLT), based in Quincy, has four nature preserves near you that were protected for public enjoyment.

Plumas County Health Department, as part of its COVID-19 prevention plan, recommends accessing those lands nearest you and not venturing far from your own community. Be mindful of when and where you park, give yourself extra space between vehicles, and consider taking a drive or changing your plans if you see several other people already using the trails.

The following are a list of FRLT nature preserves in the Feather River Watershed that welcome the public, while following public health guidelines. For more information and directions check out the Feather River Land Trust website, www.frlt.org/explorenature.

Quincy Leonhardt Learning Landscape: A pleasant out-and-back walk of about 1 1/2 miles meandering through American Valley.

Common sightings include sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and diverse waterfowl and songbirds, with nice views of the surrounding mountains like Spanish Peak and Claremont. Signs along the path developed by Quincy High School students describe potential wildlife sightings.

Directions: Park or walk to the Quincy High School tennis courts on Quincy Junction Road, cross the street and look for the entry gate with signs. After the path crosses Boyle’s Creek, take a right and follow the path along the levee. Dogs are not allowed because of nesting bird habitat. It’s a flat easy trail but there are no benches available along the trail.

Sierra Valley Preserve: The eastern side of the preserve, also known as the Maddalena property, is open to the public. It is the only public access in Sierra Valley.

Park near the corrals along A-24 (avoid driving on the mud—you could get stuck), walk through the corrals and follow signs to the walking trail. It is about a 1 mile loop walk or a short, straight trail to the birding platform that overlooks the wetlands of the Middle Fork Feather River.

Presently, there could still be quite a bit of snow, so consider bringing skis or snowshoes.

Interpretive signs along the trail help acquaint the visitor to the history, plants, and wildlife of Sierra Valley. You will find a picnic table near the birding platform and a bench near the trail that provide good viewing of the surrounding mountains and of the wetlands.

Birding will begin to be spectacular as the migrating birds return to nest: sandhill cranes, yellow-headed blackbirds, white-faced ibis and many more.

Once the snow melts and spring fully arrives, look for a beautiful array of wildflowers.

Dogs must be on a leash because of the wildlife.

Directions from Portola: Follow Highway 70 east to Beckwourth. Just east of Beckwourth, go right (south) on County Road A24 and follow 1 3/4 miles to the wooden corrals on your right. Park nearby in the pull-out, but avoid mud and standing water if you can. The trail to the bird watching platform starts at the corrals.

Olsen Barn Meadow, Chester: With tremendous community support, FRLT purchased the Olsen Barn and Meadow in 2015 and the property is open to the public for low-impact recreation including walking, birding, photography, botanizing, kite flying and for fishing access to the North Fork.

Presently, recreation could include skiing and snowshoeing until the snow melts. In the spring, summer and fall there are mowed paths that connect to the parking area at Highway 36.

Four benches dispersed throughout the property provide distinct views and enjoyable resting places.

Currently the parking area is not plowed and parking is limited to the right-of-way along Highway 36. Motor vehicle access is prohibited on the property.

To access the property, walk from the Highway 36 turnouts or use the Collins Rail Trail. Please respect private property along Melissa Avenue and do not trespass.

Directions: The property is on the east side of Chester, across the street from the Bidwell House. There is a good turnout from Highway 36 with ample parking when there isn’t snow. Look for the large ranch-style wooden gate and walk towards the barn.

Gateway/Mountain Meadows, Westwood: With the help of generous donors, in 2018 FRLT purchased this 8-acre property as a connective land bridge and “gateway” to the north shore of the recently conserved Mountain Meadows Reservoir, owned by Pacific Gas and Electric, with walking access from the town of Westwood.

Prior to this purchase, there was limited legal public access to the Mountain Meadows Reservoir. Snow is covering the property at this time. It is a great place to ski and snowshoe and it is also an excellent place to bird watch with large willow stands and Robbers Creek flowing through the wetland and meadow property.

Travel southward from Delwood Street and you will find sweeping vistas of Keddie Ridge, the shoreline of the Mountain Meadows Reservoir, and Lassen Peak. As the newest of the FRLT preserves the organization has plans to improve the parking area, install benches and signs, and generally make the property more accessible in the next two years.

Directions:  To access the property, travel to Westwood. Find Delwood Street and follow it south. After crossing the Railroad Tracks, follow the dirt road approximately 1/4 mile south and look for the gate on your right. If the gate is locked, park in front of the gate and walk onto the property. A second gate can be found at the cul-de-sac at the end of Delwood Street. The gates to the property are the ones that are bright silver and newer.

Over the last 20 years, FRLT has been dedicated to protecting the magnificent lands and waters of the Feather River region and restoring and enhancing the human connection to this special place. In these uncertain and anxious times, FRLT is proud to partner with local ranchers, other non-profits, community groups and land trust members to provide open space and public access for everyone in the watershed.

If you would like more information about FRLT, visit www.frlt.org or contact Vanessa at [email protected]. The land trust office is presently closed because of the pandemic, but staff are working remotely on conservation, land management and restoration projects.

All planned public events have been cancelled this spring, but FRLT continues to engage through social media and e-newsletters, and will be hosting online workshops and virtual events in the coming months.

Donations online or via mail are welcomed, as FRLT is currently running with a full staff with important work to do: Feather River Land Trust, P.O. Box 1826, Quincy, CA 95971.

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