whitewater preserve

Discovering Whitewater Preserve

The writer experiences a new-found connection with nature just off Interstate 10 thanks to the University of California Climate Stewards Program.

Yasuko Smith Attractions, Current Digital, Hiking

whitewater preserve

The Whitewater Ranger Station, Whitewater Preserve.

Over the summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to attend the University of California Climate Stewards Program, hosted by the University of California-Riverside, Palm Desert campus. The course focused on engaging the community through action and ecosystem resilience by addressing the root causes of climate change.

The program also addresses the “whole person” — mind, body, spirit, emotions — at a time when even the basic things in life seem insurmountable due to the crises that are directly and indirectly affecting people all around the world. The approach this program takes is to bring hope and provide the tools necessary to focus on the needs and conditions of each person’s local community.

By embracing positivity, inclusivity, increasing diversity and systemic equity through participatory science and community practice around climate resilience throughout California through commitment-level action, we can make a difference.

One of the assignments in this program required students to create a final project that encompasses the course's guiding principles. As I have been currently working as a groundskeeping docent at the Whitewater Preserve, managed by the Wildlands Conservancy, I had the perfect project to pursue.

Whitewater Preserve, Pond No. 2.
The Wildlands Conservancy

The Wildlands Conservancy has established the largest nonprofit nature preserve system in California, comprising 15 preserves and encompassing 143,000 acres of diverse mountain, valley, desert, river, and oceanfront landscapes. These preserves are open to the public free of charge for passive recreation, including camping, hiking, and other recreational activities.

The Outdoor Discovery Program is a nature-based education experience designed to encourage youth to discover the wonders of nature. The program offers curriculum-based, hands-on learning experiences that incorporate STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) concepts which includes art with the sciences, with program activities related to California Content Standards.

The Wildlands Conservancy also hosts the “Behold the Beauty Association” to help foster the appreciation for natural beauty in people’s daily lives. Within this association are seven tenets which align with the UC Climate Stewards program, providing opportunities to future generations to explore and enjoy the wonders of nature.

Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater Preserve is located on the far west side of the Coachella Valley in Southern California, off Interstate 10 and Whitewater Canyon Road, with access to the Pacific Crest Trail.

 It is comprised of 2,851 acres surrounded by the Bureau of Land Management’s San Gorgonio Wilderness and the Whitewater River, which provides a reliable, year-round water source for native and migrating birds like the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and least Bell’s vireo, while affording birdwatchers the opportunity to also see migrating summer tanagers and vermilion flycatchers.

The canyon is an important wildlife corridor between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains sheltering donated lands, which include sand dunes that are home to the endangered fringe-toed lizard at Windy Point, which lies at the confluence of the Whitewater and San Gorgonio Rivers.

Aside from birds and lizards, the habitat is incredibly diverse and has an abundant collection of additional reptiles, amphibians, and larger mammals like mountain lions, bears, and... a robust population of Bighorn Sheep.


The outdoor program at Whitewater Preserve is an interpretive program that focuses on desert water cycles and watershed ecology. Primarily designed for 3rd to 12th grades, this program is held outdoors on the trails and surrounding areas of our preserves and uses hikes or walks from ½ -2 miles as the classroom. The preserve also allows free camping and other interpretive programs.

Volunteering at the Preserve

As a volunteer at Whitewater, I have had many opportunities to attend educational docent training, like the recent “Geology of the Canyon Hike,” hosted by Codi Lazar, professor of geology at California State University of San Bernardino. Community involvement opportunities like the recent Latino Conservation Week, covering watersheds, casted animal tracks, and animals and nature at the preserve.

My work at the preserve and with the UC Climate Stewards program made for an incredibly rewarding summer. Go and visit your local preserve and find something that piques your interest and get involved. We all need to work together and make a difference in protecting our planet, now and for future generations. Hopefully, by creating community awareness we can also promote climate and environmental awareness.

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