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Advocates fight to protect Kern River Riparian Preserve

Posted at 9:16 AM, Sep 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 12:16:33-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Kern River Preserve is a beautiful and peaceful area, set aside by the county to honor some of the natural beauty along the Kern River. But now due to illegal activity and vandalism, what was meant to be a hallmark in the community is now the vague image of what it once was.

Last year, the Kern County Board of Supervisors designated a portion of Bakersfield — just outside of Hart Park — as a nature preserve. However, due to a lack of attention, the area has been misused.

“A lot of folks may not know the distinctions of the various parts of the river. We do, but part of it is this ordinance initially called for signage of the preserve,” said Jeff Flores, Chief of Staff, Supervisor Mike Maggard. “So you can see there’s no special designation, there’s no special signage that says ‘Hey this is a special preserve with special needs and attention.”

While many know about Hart Park — not many know that just two minutes up the road is a Riparian Preserve. The preserve is a belt of rich plant and bird life that runs from Lake Ming up to the Pyles Boys Camp.

“I mean this is just 15 minutes up from where I live, what a wonderful resource I think much of Bakersfield doesn’t even know it exists,” said Marion Vargas, a Bakersfield native and member of the Hart Park Working Group. “But who would come when you see the rocks graffitied and the litter and garbage.”

Vargas says she remembers when this preserve was a sweet escape where she could take her grandchildren to bird-watch or fish. Something she wouldn’t do now.

“I’m really broken-hearted about what has happened. We worked for several years to get the county to set aside this land, to protect,” she said.

Eddy Laine of the Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter is spearheading efforts to bring changes to the preserve.

“I don’t know who does this but this is not necessary,” Laine said as he pointed to an area of small boulders that have been covered in graffiti.

Advocates are asking the county to put greater focus on protecting this area, including assigning greater ranger presence to protect the preserve, adding signage along the entrance, and restricting vehicle access.

“Well you can see easy vehicle access in the river is the main issue, whether it's off-road vehicles or people just driving in and with that they bring their trash, pretty much run over the habitat, the trees, and plants,” said Bill Cooper with the Kern River Parkway Foundation. “The preserve is a very unique area in the southern valley, it’s the very southernmost riparian area in the San Joaquin Valley and, most people don’t know, but 95% of that kind of habitat along the rivers in California have been lost."

Right now, the county budget sets aside funding for 179 general service employees. Out of those, 14 are park rangers and security.

A week ago, volunteers with the Bakersfield Homeless Center worked to remove trash and debris from the preserve. But Laine says they only slapped a bandaid on a much deeper problem.

Returning to the preserve just a few days later, Laine pointed out new trash and vandalism that had been added to the area.

“Unless we have rangers down here to monitor what’s going on, this is the kinda thing that’s going to happen.”