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River walks: Nearby routes offer beauty, serenity

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Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2011 1:35 pm | Updated: 10:05 am, Sat May 28, 2011.

If you enjoy a brisk walk in the outdoors, with the chance of seeing wildflowers, egrets or even otters, there are three local destinations to consider during your visit to the area.

Each is a river walk, one along the Cosumnes and two along the Mokelumne. These are moderate excursions — more leg-stretcher than butt-kicker. Each boasts the promise of riparian serenity plus the chance of seeing wildlife.

The Cosumnes River Preserve

General: The preserve is an assemblage of 46,000 acres managed by a unique partnership, including the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Preserve property includes farmland, wetlands and riverside habitat. From the visitor center, you can take a somewhat ambitious 3.1-mile river loop trail that explores fields, sloughs and woodlands. It is generally flat and wonderfully scenic, with the prospect of seeing waterfowl, squirrels, rabbits and perhaps a river otter.

There are other walks, too. A wetlands walk of 1.5 miles offers the chance to see bountiful bird life, as does a short but worthwhile boardwalk walk of about a half-mile.

Special features: The preserve is a sanctuary for both people and creatures. The visitor center includes several displays on the wildlife of the area and is worth a peek.

Of the three locations mentioned here, the preserve offers the best chance for a true escape well into the natural world.

Birds are amazingly plentiful in the preserve, especially on the wetlands and boardwalk routes. Mark Ackerman, the wonderfully knowledgeable preserve biologist, reports than a census in January showed 90,000 birds in the preserve. Ducks, geese, swans and raptors are in abundance. Walking, hiking and birding are big here.

So is kayaking and canoeing. There is a designated launching area and the preserve even provides transport carts gratis to help take your kayak or canoe from vehicle to water.

The basics: Open sunrise to sunset every day. No dogs are allowed. Free.

Location: About 15 miles northwest of Lodi at 13501 Franklin Blvd., Galt.

More information: 916-684-2816.

Lodi Lake Nature Area

General: Lodi Lake is one of Lodi’s top attractions, rimmed with a beach, picnic tables and stately trees. But just to the west of the lake itself is the nature area, a quiet and relatively unspoiled place of Redwoods, oaks and blackberries. The loop trail travels through a lush Central Valley woodland and offers glimpses of the Mokelumne River.

Special features: A storyboard at the trailhead offers information on the history and wildlife of the area. Walkers will see typically see squirrels and a fair number of birds; deer are also common in this area. The trail ends at Pig’s Lake, where turtles often bask on semi-submerged logs.

The Basics: Open sunrise to sunset every day. No dogs are allowed in the nature area. A fee of $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends for non-residents is required to enter Lodi Lake Park during busier times of the year in the spring and summer.

Location: Lodi Lake is located on Turner Road at Mills Avenue near the General Mills plant, on the northern edge of Lodi.

More information: 209-333-6742.

Mokelumne River Day Use Area

General: This is a park-like expanse immediately west of Camanche Dam. Most people start their excursion in the day use parking lot off McIntire Road. They are then free to roam on a lattice of roads and trails along a one-mile stretch of the Mokelumne westward toward a fish hatchery.

Special features: Dogs on leashes are allowed here, and on weekends, you will see a variety of pooches walking their human friends along the river’s edge. In the spring, a profusion of wildflowers erupts. Fishing is allowed certain months of the year (best to check before heading out with rod and reel) when the fish are not spawning.

More than the Cosumnes or Lodi Lake walks, the river is a pulsing, powerful presence on this route, as you are never more than a few hundred yards from the Mokelumne. During the winter and spring, the river can flow high and fast, so use caution.

Lots of wildlife in this area, including deer, raptors and waterfowl. A pleasant walk is along the river up to the fish hatchery at the base of the dam, operated by the state of California in collaboration with the East Bay Municipal Utility District. The hatchery includes Chinook salmon and steelhead. It is a fascinating place to explore, with water-filled raceways brimming with tiny (and not-so-tiny) fish.

The Basics: Open sunrise to sunset every day. Dogs allowed on leash. Free. (The hatchery is open every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Location: 15 miles west of Lodi off Highway 88 on McIntire Road.

More information: 209-772-8204.

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