Sacramento’s Magnificent Vernal Pool Tours

By Michelle Kopkash

The seasonal vernal pools in Northern California display the magnificence of nature at its finest. Most years, with the exception of those affected by drought, vernal pools fill with water in the middle of vast fields, becoming temporary homes and nesting grounds for a variety of critters and plants, some of which are listed as threatened and endangered. The vernal pools are made possible by the unique composite of the ground—a clay layer near the surface of the earth that makes it possible for that section of land to hold water. If you’re able to tour one of the vernal pools before they dry up, jump at the chance, because this is an experience every member of your family will treasure for years to come. 

Over the weekend, my family had the opportunity to join Sacramento Splash on a vernal pool tour. We were lead through a large, flat field with two docents who enthusiastically shared nuggets of information about the field around us, engaging both the children and the adults who were with us. The guides pointed out owl pellets, scat and tracks, as well as native flowers and plants along the walk to the vernal pools. We learned about how the Native Americans used soap plants and sage in their daily lives. Kids looked at gopher holes with the docents and learned about voles, coyotes and snakes that call the field home. We even stopped to enjoy the sound of blackbirds as they sang from a few sparse trees.

Mid-way through the tour, the guides stopped to let kids wade through shallow, marsh-like bodies of water in their rain boots. Parents watched with nervous anticipation—half expecting their children to slip in the mud—as their kids splashed around and poked at the wet land with sticks. The motto for the afternoon? “If you’re not muddy after the tour, then you didn’t have enough fun.”

Finally, we arrived at the vernal pool. Kids were given clear cups to scoop up samples of water from the pool, from which we were easily able to see fairy shrimp, water beetle larva, tadpoles, frogs and more. Docents shared magnifying glasses with the children to observe minute critters as well. We even witnessed a garter snake slither into the water for a swim and the kids gathered around excitedly to observe a larger frog in the water. After a long while of fun, we were led back through the field, boots caked with mud and smiles on our faces.

There’s nothing like a day in nature to remind you of the blessings of life. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find your way onto the waitlist for Sacramento Splash’s last vernal pool tours of the season. If not, check out the Consumes River Preserve, as they’re currently offering vernal pool tours and wild flower hikes. Also, the Fair Oaks Recreation and Park District is offering a vernal pool tour in April through the Phoenix Park Vernal Pools.

And, for those who miss out this year, next year affords another opportunity.

About Sacramento Splash:

Sacramento Splash is a non-profit organization based in Mather, Calif., dedicated to helping local children understand and value the natural world around them through science education and outdoor exploration. The non-profit offers a number of environmental science programs designed to introduce Sacramento area kids to local habitats, and provides enriching and educational tours for elementary schools, homeschool groups, public groups and private groups. One of its main missions is to sponsor children who would otherwise be unable to attend educational programs such as these.

Check out Sacramento Splash’s Facebook page, for upcoming tours and events. They offer seasonal vernal pool tours, wild flower tours and more. It’s a great idea to join the waitlist, as we were lucky enough to get in that way.

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Sacramento’s Magnificent Vernal Pool Tours

By Michelle Kopkash

The seasonal vernal pools in Northern California display the magnificence of nature at its finest. Most years, with the exception of those affected by drought, vernal pools fill with water in the middle of vast fields, becoming temporary homes and nesting grounds for a variety of critters and plants, some of which are listed as threatened and endangered. The vernal pools are made possible by the unique composite of the ground—a clay layer near the surface of the earth that makes it possible for that section of land to hold water. If you’re able to tour one of the vernal pools before they dry up, jump at the chance, because this is an experience every member of your family will treasure for years to come. 

Over the weekend, my family had the opportunity to join Sacramento Splash on a vernal pool tour. We were lead through a large, flat field with two docents who enthusiastically shared nuggets of information about the field around us, engaging both the children and the adults who were with us. The guides pointed out owl pellets, scat and tracks, as well as native flowers and plants along the walk to the vernal pools. We learned about how the Native Americans used soap plants and sage in their daily lives. Kids looked at gopher holes with the docents and learned about voles, coyotes and snakes that call the field home. We even stopped to enjoy the sound of blackbirds as they sang from a few sparse trees.

Mid-way through the tour, the guides stopped to let kids wade through shallow, marsh-like bodies of water in their rain boots. Parents watched with nervous anticipation—half expecting their children to slip in the mud—as their kids splashed around and poked at the wet land with sticks. The motto for the afternoon? “If you’re not muddy after the tour, then you didn’t have enough fun.”

Finally, we arrived at the vernal pool. Kids were given clear cups to scoop up samples of water from the pool, from which we were easily able to see fairy shrimp, water beetle larva, tadpoles, frogs and more. Docents shared magnifying glasses with the children to observe minute critters as well. We even witnessed a garter snake slither into the water for a swim and the kids gathered around excitedly to observe a larger frog in the water. After a long while of fun, we were led back through the field, boots caked with mud and smiles on our faces.

There’s nothing like a day in nature to remind you of the blessings of life. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find your way onto the waitlist for Sacramento Splash’s last vernal pool tours of the season. If not, check out the Consumes River Preserve, as they’re currently offering vernal pool tours and wild flower hikes. Also, the Fair Oaks Recreation and Park District is offering a vernal pool tour in April through the Phoenix Park Vernal Pools.

And, for those who miss out this year, next year affords another opportunity.

About Sacramento Splash:

Sacramento Splash is a non-profit organization based in Mather, Calif., dedicated to helping local children understand and value the natural world around them through science education and outdoor exploration. The non-profit offers a number of environmental science programs designed to introduce Sacramento area kids to local habitats, and provides enriching and educational tours for elementary schools, homeschool groups, public groups and private groups. One of its main missions is to sponsor children who would otherwise be unable to attend educational programs such as these.

Check out Sacramento Splash’s Facebook page, for upcoming tours and events. They offer seasonal vernal pool tours, wild flower tours and more. It’s a great idea to join the waitlist, as we were lucky enough to get in that way.

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