Warren Shaw on 20 Years of Stewardship at China Creek Park

Warren Shaw, China Creek Project Volunteer

This month the China Creek Project, a restoration project managed by the Sequoia Chapter of CNPS, is celebrating 20 years of stewardship. Long-time Fresno resident Warren Shaw has been there since the beginning. I’ve known Warren for a little over two years in my time as a volunteer at China Creek Park. He is a wonderful grandfatherly figure, welcoming all who come to the park, visitors and volunteers alike. His career as an educator shines through as he encourages the volunteers who don’t know much about native plants and are willing to learn. He is a gifted builder, having built three of his own homes. In leading up to the park’s Celebration Event on March 9th, I spoke to Warren about his time at the park:

Warren Shaw, how did you initially get involved with the California Native Plant Society?

It started with oak trees. In my youth, I spent a lot of time in the mountains hunting and fishing. I came to admire the oaks, their beauty, strength, and persistence. If you spend time in the foothills, you’ll see blue oaks that live without any water, you wonder how they survive. I just think oaks are amazing. I’m a wood-worker and like to make things out of oak lumber. So, when I came across the CNPS booth at the Fresno Garden Home Show, I was able to quickly bond with the folks over oaks.

How would you describe China Creek Park for someone who’s never been there?

“It is a remnant of an ancient forest. Scientifically, it’s a remnant oak woodland. There used to be a lot more like it. All the rivers and streams that flowed down from the mountains into the valley all had oak woodlands on their banks and floodplains. The best soil, alluvial soil, was washed down to these areas, so they were quickly cleared for farmland in most cases. As it happens, the area of China Creek was too rocky to plow, so the land has only ever been used as grazing land. It also would have flooded every Spring, being in the King’s River floodplain.

What is special about the park that has kept you going for 20 years?

“As nearly as anything you can find, it is a natural area. A natural area that is very close to developed cities. We have a significant amount of wildlife here. Most of it’s pretty secretive and we don’t see it much. There’s a resident herd of deer. There’s coyotes. I’ve seen bob cats too, though this was some time ago. There’s also certainly a human element. It’s great to work with like-minded people.

Has working in the park allowed you to continue being a teacher?

“Sometimes, and probably too much. Once while providing a tour to a group of adults, it was suggested I talk less. Teachable moments are hard to let pass by. I agreed to be quiet unless questions were asked. [Warren chuckles]

That’s hilarious. What would you wish for the park to look like in another 20 years?

“As much as possible, our mission is to return the park to its natural state, before the area was settled. We realize it isn’t possible to entirely recreate those conditions. We’d like the park to be free from exotic plants, and for the oaks to thrive along with all the native flora.

Is there anything else you’d like for people to know about the park?

Over the last 20 years, lots of people have put in a lot of work at this park. Some of them worked very hard, people with great big piles of dug thistles at the end of the day. They left a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Many good, well-meaning people have spent time here keeping the park going. Some of them are gone now, moved away or passed on. There’s a whole new team coming in now, and this is what we had hoped for, that the project would live on. That seems to be happening.”

Photos from Warren’s collection:

Thank you, Warren Shaw, for many years of service as a volunteer land steward at China Creek Park!

Warren Shaw came to Fresno in 1956 to attend college. During the summers he worked for the forest service. At Fresno State, he met Helen, his wife of 65 years. They both enjoyed long and fruitful careers as teachers. They became involved as CNPS board members shortly after retirement in the late 90’s. Helen has made significant contributions to CNPS, serving as membership chair and ensuring the newsletter was posted. They have 5 grandchildren. Recently, Warren’s grandson Erik gave a presentation to park volunteers on the history of Tulare Lake as part of his master’s program in history. He spoke of the native peoples who lived there. Historically, the Yokuts people and Choinumni tribe lived along the Kings River as the original land stewards of what we now know as China Creek Park.

To find out more, attend the park’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, or come to a regular park volunteer day. More details at China Creek Project.

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