The Great Valley has lost 99 percent of its native grasslands. What hasn’t been tilled for agriculture or paved for development has been overwhelmed by non-native grass species. Public opportunities to view the Valley’s few remaining open grasslands are limited. The Howard Ranch Trail, which begins in Rancho Seco Park, provides perhaps one of the best opportunities to visit the Great Valley grassland (as transformed as it is by exotic grasses) and vernal pool ecosystem. The Nature Conservancy purchased the ranch in 1999 from the heirs of Charles Howard (of Seabiscuit fame) and then resold it to a local rancher while retaining conservation easements. The California Conservation Corps constructed the trail, which is maintained by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). SMUD also manages the adjacent Rancho Seco Park. The trail offers nice views of Rancho Seco Lake and provides access to the open, rolling grasslands at the base of the Sierra foothills. It circles a large area of vernal pools—shallow pools that provide important seasonal wetland habitat and a gorgeous display of spring wildflowers.
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