The Rutherford Report: Preseve Protects Critter, Educates Visitors

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“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience,”

—Ralph Waldo Emmerson
Preserve Protects Critters, Educates Visitors

It started with a 763-acre chunk of undeveloped land at the southern base of the San Gabriel Mountains speckled with boulders, covered in shrubs, and teaming with critters.

It was 1998, and construction on the 210 freeway extension (then known as State Route 30) was getting underway.

San Bernardino Associated Governments—the County’s regional transportation agency—was required to make up for the impacts of the freeway construction by purchasing and preserving Riversidean Alluvial Fan Sage Scrub (RAFSS) habitat similar to what would be gobbled up by the new freeway. This would help ensure the preservation of habitat for a host of state and federally listed endangered, threatened or sensitive plants and animals including the California gnatcatcher, Least Bell’s vireo, Los Angeles pocket mouse, Plummer’s mariposa lily, Parry’s spineflower, Bell’s sage sparrow, Rufous-crowned sparrow, and the San Diego horned lizard.

The San Bernardino County Department of Special Districts’ County Service Area 120 (CSA 120) assumed management of the 763 acres (now known as the North Etiwanda Preserve), but it was difficult to effectively police the massive swath of open space in the beginning. Off-road vehicles and mountain bikes were a near constant presence even though they were outlawed in the preserve because they caused erosion and had other harmful effects on the sensitive habitat.

Over the next decade, CSA 120 added an additional 440 acres of mitigation land to the Preserve, boosting its size to about 1,200 acres and more than doubling the endowment fund utilized to preserve and protect the area, bringing the total to just under $1.6 million. It also developed a management strategy for the Preserve, which continued to be impacted by off-roading, trash dumping, shooting and other prohibited activities.

The idea behind the strategy was simple. Create a 3-mile loop trail through the preserve along with various displays and amenities to educate visitors about the importance of preserving the open space. Those people would help deter prohibited activities by merely being present. The plan also included the strategic placement of gates and natural barriers to prevent off-road vehicles from entering.

“Nowadays, we see virtually no vehicle intrusions in the Preserve,” said Erin Oplinger, a District Services Coordinator for Special Districts.

Over the years, Special Districts has recruited a team of volunteers to help maintain and protect the Preserve. One person may take responsibility for cleaning the restroom, while another may find value in restoring the trails. The program lets volunteers explore their areas of passion.

“It may seem odd, but I have one very dedicated individual who loathes the sight of trash on the trail,” Opliger said. “So to combat that problem, he’s up there almost every day picking up litter and talking to visitors about the importance of the ‘pack it in, pack it out’ ideal.”

In addition, Special Districts organizes quarterly cleanups that attract scores of conscientious hikers, Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, and other groups who help pick up trash, restore trails and remove invasive plants from the Preserve.

Unbeknownst to some, the Preserve serves as an outdoor classroom for local schools K-12 multiple times per week throughout the school year. The educational program—which is run in partnership with the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District—provides students with the opportunity to bring State learning objectives out of the classroom and into the direct hands of these little scientists. The kids use the same scientific equipment field biologists use to monitor and identify plants and animals.

The North Etiwanda Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and is located at the northern terminus of Etiwanda Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga. Visit to learn more.
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