Photo courtesy of Tim O’Hara

Tim O’Hara took this drone photograph of The Preserve at District56 during its grand opening day on Nov. 6.

By Lance Armstrong

Citizen Staff Writer

A crowd of about 1,500 people on Nov. 6 gathered to celebrate the grand opening of The Preserve – the newest feature of the city’s District56 center.

This $15 million, 28-acre park has a 4.3-acre lake with four islands; benches, walking paths, a children’s playground, picnic areas and a fitness court. The park is located at 9701 Big Horn Blvd., adjacent to the Elk Grove Aquatics Center.

The Preserve, which mostly consists of open park space, also serves as a place for habitat restoration, native grasslands and the preservation of trees, including an old pistachio orchard.

Prior to the event’s ribbon cutting, Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen noted the ongoing growth of District56.

“We opened the aquatics center in May of 2019, we opened the community center, right behind, with its beautiful senior center and veterans’ hall, in 2020, and today we celebrate the completion of the last in a series of Phase 1 improvements here at District56,” she said.

“This amazing, (28)-acre preserve provides a place for residents of all ages to gather, connect and appreciate nature in the heart of our city.”

Singh-Allen added that this park represents the city’s commitment to conservation and its desire to ensure that there will be sustainable places for future generations.

Elected officials of the Wilton Rancheria tribal council also participated in the opening ceremony.

Tribal Chair Jesus Tarango told the crowd that The Preserve provides an opportunity for current and future generations to see how the area would have appeared many years ago.

Following Tarango’s introduction of his fellow tribal council members, tribal Council Member Raquel Williams offered a blessing of the land in the tribe’s native language.

That blessing was followed by the solidifying of that blessing through a Miwok tribal song sung by male members of the tribe.

Tarango described the tribe’s participation in the ceremony as an honor.

“For us, it’s a definite honor to be able to do something like that on our original, ancestral lands, but also doing it in our language, in our words,” he told the Citizen. “I think it’s really significant when you’re bridging two communities together.”

Addressing the crowd, Singh-Allen noted that she was “deeply touched” by the blessing of “sacred lands.”

“We thank all of you (tribal members) for sharing your lands with us,” she said. “We wouldn’t be here, but for all of you. So, today, we not only reflect on a bright, new future for our city, but also to pay respect to the past.”

Concluding the opening ceremony, the crowd gathered for a special event in which a Harris’s Hawk from West Coast Falconry in Marysville took two flights past the ceremonial ribbon before it was cut.

Following the ceremony, Elk Grove City Manager Jason Behrmann described the uniqueness of The Preserve, which received its name for its preservation of nature.

“It’s unlike any other park in the city, and one of the main goals here was to create fluid, passive space where people could come and throw a Frisbee or football on the great lawn or they could walk through the trails, they could explore the area here or just enjoy nature,” he said.

Behrmann added that it is important to set aside spaces like The Preserve as the city grows.

“That’s what makes a community a community,” he said. “It’s not just a place to live, but a place to play and get away and just enjoy being a part of the community.”

Also in attendance were Council Members Darren Suen, Stephanie Nguyen and Kevin Spease, and former Council Member Steve Detrick, who Hume recognized as having “played a hand” in the council’s effort to establish The Preserve.

Hume, who dressed up for the occasion in a bird watching outfit, called this park a “testament to the vision of the (City) Council,” as well as the abilities of the city’s staff.

He also recalled previewing this new District56 addition a couple of weeks ago.

“I was able to take a little preview and there were already ducks on the pond,” he said. “And so, the wildlife, I think, is going to really come out and utilize it and to be to their benefit, too, which is great.”

Included within The Preserve is a habitat area with nesting boxes to encourage the return of wildlife such as burrowing owls and bats.

The grounds also have interpretive signs for people to learn about the site’s many aspects of nature.

Cosumnes Community Services Director Rod Brewer called The Preserve a “great collaboration” between the city of Elk Grove and the CSD, which will maintain the grounds of this park.

“The CSD once again (is) showing how we can deliver maximum services for the people of Elk Grove,” he said. “And to see the distance and the length of this park is truly a jewel for the city, and looking forward to its full maturation.”

Enhancing the celebration was a performance by guitarist and vocalist Nicholas Matteis, live painting by Elk Grove artist Terry DeFrates, presentations about the Sacramento Zoo, cornhole games, and kids’ activities such as a smartphone-aided scavenger hunt, and the “Monster Mural,” featuring a black-and-white nature scene on a large piece of paper for kids to color.

Among the community members in the crowd was Diane Hollingshead, who spoke about her love of The Preserve.

“I love the kids’ area, I love the workout area,” she said. “Everything is beautiful. I love the idea about the birds, the blessing. It was fantastic. And hopefully we will see more birds and bats.”

Ramil Caraig told the Citizen that he lives in the neighborhood and plans to visit this park many times.

“They put it in the right spot,” he said. “It is a good idea, a good place. I will come out with my wife and my kids.”

While spending time with her husband and four children, Tran Nguyen mentioned that she appreciates The Preserve’s playground.

“It’s an awesome playground, very versatile,” she said. “So, good for each age group, for the older kids, smaller kids. So, they’re all covered.”

Elk Grove resident Sharon Anderson referred to the place as “incredible.”

“I’ve already biked through it a few times since the fence went down, and have just enjoyed watching the development of this project,” she said. “We’ve watched this since the day they broke ground. My favorite spot is in the wild area.”

Elk Grove resident Sanitta Coey, who was visiting The Preserve with her husband, Dustin, mentioned that she does not have a favorite part of this new park, but enjoys many features about it.

“Now that the park has (been) completed and is open to the public now, we definitely enjoy the wetlands and the trails, of course, for walking,” she said.

Hillary Gaines, a nine-year resident of Elk Grove, shared her love for The Preserve and Elk Grove’s parks, in general.

“Honestly, it’s the reason why we stay in Elk Grove is the parks here are amazing,” she said.