Story and photo by Stacy Fisher
Within the 488-acre Mendocino National Forest Red Bluff Recreation Area and adjacent to the Sacramento River off I-5, the Sacramento River Discovery Center is about providing environmental education for people of all ages.
The forest’s mountains and canyons straddle the eastern spur of the Coastal Mountain Range in northwestern California, and offer a variety of recreational opportunities. Bird watchers can observe some of the over 120 species of winged creatures that have been documented living or visiting there.
Situated on two-acres, the Discovery Center features 4.2 miles of trails where individuals and groups of friends and family can take a leisurely stroll and observe approximately 150 species of plants in different habitats, including a shaded garden, as well as areas without shade and no water other than what Mother Nature provides seasonally to sustain the drought-tolerant plants. The plants are identified by their names painted on rocks along the trail.
The mission of the center is to provide “hands-on instructional programs, watershed rehabilitation opportunities and other means to enhance the public’s understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of resources that make up the Sacramento River watershed,” according to their website.
“We educate people on the importance of native plants, and of water conservation,” explains Executive Director Bobie Hughes. “And we do that by teaching people about permaculture, growing vegetables and fruits, and about mulching your garden to conserve the moisture in the soil.
” Inside the facility are various exhibits, such as two resident King snakes in glass cases that like to entertain visitors, she says. There are displays of birds and another display explaining the meandering nature of the Sacramento River. Three interactive exhibits deal with the water cycle, another is “basically a historic presentation that teaches about agriculture in the region, and another display has buttons to push that show the various parts of the watershed.”
The center showcases posters of old newspaper clippings from the 1890s that feature attention-grabbing headlines from regional volcanoes to Native Americans, to the types of plants and animals that lived in the area.
People don’t need to have a science background to enjoy and understand what the center has to offer, Bobie assures. The knowledgeable volunteer staff can answer questions that visitors may have while attending.
“We have a monthly guest lecturer program series on the second Thursday of every month in the evenings on environmental topics.” She says they have scheduled events for each season, such as a six-week summer day camp for students age six to 12, and a fall fest plant sale starting in the first week of November; also a watershed celebration event in the spring on the second Saturday in May.
School field trips can be scheduled for elementary and middle school students that include several different topics that comply with Common Core standards, she remarks. The school administration simply contacts the center to set a date.
“One of the reasons I like this job is seeing the expression on the faces of the kids who come here and discover something new that they haven’t known before. It’s a joy to see kids excited about learning. That’s what we’re all about. If you’re going to learn about what lives in the water, you’re going to get your feet wet. If you’re going to learn what grows in the soil, you’re going to get dirt under your fingernails. That’s what brings learning to life.”
The Sacramento River Discovery Center is close enough to the Sacramento River that visitors can get their feet wet if they like or settle into a nearby camping site.
Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no entrance fee. Location: 1000 Sale Lane, Red Bluff, CA 96080. Website and aerial map: www.srdc.tehama.k12.ca.us; Starting January 1st the center’s new website will be: www.SacramentoRiverDiscoveryCenter. org. Facebook page: Sacramento River Discovery Center. Phone: 530.527.1196