Donate Index Calendar Nature Land Protection Stewardship Newsroom Contact

A. Brown Flour Mill © Alison Sheehey 2001History of the Kern River Preserve

South Fork Kern River

A Globally Important Bird Area

California Riparian Habitat Flagship Project

The Kern River Preserve was purchased in 1979 by The Nature Conservancy. Prior to becoming a preserve, the land was locally known as the A. Brown Ranch. The land had been operated as a cattle ranch since the mid-1800s.

Rick Hewett, the first preserve manager, was loved by the Kern Valley Community. He had a membership organization to support the preserve and published the Riparian Rag newsletter. John Ridenour had Rick on his radio station, KVLI, weekly for Nature Notes, a 5-minute nature program for children. Under Rick's management the preserve opened up to the community and everyone pitched in to build fences and plant trees. Soon the forest became thicker and the populations of native animals grew.

In 1986, Dr. Bert Anderson was hired to begin large scale revegetation of native tree species on cleared agricultural fields. The first site was the 25 acre Dump Site. The nature trail encircles this site which now blends in to the old forest.

Reed Tollefson arrived for the second year of planting trees with Dr. Anderson. Reed has either assisted or led the planting of 7 revegetation sites on the preserve.

In 1988, Rick Hewett and his family moved to Bakersfield to run The Nature Conservancy's San Joaquin office. Ron Tiller was hired as the new preserve manager. Ron came to the Kern with a history in habitat restoration. He worked with Dr. Anderson in 1989 to plant the Prince Site and in 1990 he directed The Nature Conservancy's first in-house restoration effort on the Kern River Preserve.

Reed now had 3 year's experience of restoration on the Kern River Preserve and The Nature Conservancy hired him as assistant manager to Ron. A month after Reed moved in, he hired Lynn Overtree as one of the 3 interns to help plant the Palmer Site.

In 1992, The Nature Conservancy stole Ron away from the Kern River Preserve to take over the management and restoration of the challenging Stony Creek Preserve. Reed became preserve manager of the Kern River Preserve and Lynn was hired as the assistant manager.

The last site available to plant was the Colt Site, behind the headquarters. It was planted in 1993. After the growing season of 1994, there were no more large-scale revegetation projects on the Kern River Preserve. The assistant manager position was ended at the end of that fiscal year and Lynn was rehired as the transition coordinator. Her job was to find an organization that could manage the Kern River Preserve as well or better than The Nature Conservancy.

Eight organizations and agencies were interviewed and Audubon-California was the strongest candidate. Negotiations were finalized at the end of 1996 and by February 1997, Audubon-California began managing the Kern River Preserve.

Meanwhile, Reed had continued his outstanding job managing the preserve as an active part of the Kern Valley community. In March 1997, he transferred to Audubon-California, a loss to The Nature Conservancy, but a gain for the Kern River Preserve. Audubon-California fully funds, and manages the Kern River Preserve with Reed Tollefson continuing as preserve manager.


The deed to the 1136-acre Kern River Preserve, located along the South Fork of the Kern River east of Isabella Reservoir, was transferred from The Nature Conservancy to the National Audubon Society on November 25, 1998.

The Kern River Preserve is the core of one of the first ten Globally Important Bird Areas to be designated in the United States. It is Globally Important for its protection of Fremont cottonwood and red willow habitat and major populations of migrating Turkey Vultures and nesting Western Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Southwestern Willow Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and Kern Red-winged Blackbirds.

"As the preeminent private bird conservation organization in the United States it is wholly appropriate that the National Audubon Society through Audubon-California, its state branch, take title to the Kern River Preserve. The preserve is at the heart of the South Fork Kern River watershed which hosts an unparalleled two hundred species of native nesting birds," states Bob Barnes, Audubon-California's State Director of Bird Conservation.

Dan Taylor, Executive Director of Audubon-California, passed along the news of the transfer to staff at the Kern River Preserve with a message for Kern County residents, "On behalf of the entire Audubon family, we are delighted to complete the transfer of the Kern River Preserve. In two short years, the Kern Preserve has become one of the crown jewels of our sanctuary system. We look forward to many years of restoration and conservation of this remarkable place in partnership with the local community."

Upon hearing the news Reed Tollefson, Kern River Preserve Manager, reflected "I am looking forward to continue working with our neighboring landowners in the Kern River Valley to promote the protection and good stewardship of the valuable riparian, wetland and agricultural lands that are so important to wildlife and people."

On March 31, 2005 another historic milestone was achieved. Audubon California and the California Dept. of Fish & Game took ownership of 4358 acres of the Sprague Ranch along the South Fork Kern River and up Fay Canyon. This purchase was in part to mitigate for the flooding of the South Fork Wildlife area during high water years and loss of 1400-acres of Willow Flycatcher habitat. Audubon took ownership of 1640-acres which more than doubled the size of the preserve.

On January 31, 2006, after a fast and furious negotiation in just two weeks by Reed Tollefson and Laurie Robinson, Audubon closed on the purchase of the 105-acre Alexander Ranch directly on the South Fork Kern River. This was accomplished with a private grant. The ranch occupies land along Fay Ranch Road and along Hwy 178. This acquisition increased Audubon's holdings of contiguous property in Weldon to 2884-acres.

Then on August 27, 2009, we added an additional 26-acres along Fay Ranch Road, with the purchase of the Vig property. This piece is adjacent to the Kern River Preserve's Alexander Ranch addition and the South Fork Elementary School.

On November 20, 2009, the final tract of land along the South Fork Kern River between Fay Ranch Road and Sierra Way closed escrow. After years of negotiations with the Alexander/Vig/Heflin families, Reed Tollefson closed the loop and brought this amazing piece of property under permanent protection. This purchase brought the total acreage of Audubon California's contiguous acreage for the Kern River Preserve to 2,987 acres.

In Christmas eve in 2009, the final piece of land closed escrow on a long-term project to protect the Kelso Valley Watershed. The 602-acres was transferred to the BLM and included into the Bright Star Wilderness in March 2011.

In January 2012, Audubon facilitated the purchase of 1400 acres in Sage and Horse Canyons by the Mojave Desert Land Trust to be transferred into the Kiavah Wilderness for protection in perpetuity.

The Kern River Preserve is, also, one of four Flagship Projects of the California Riparian Habitat Joint Venture, a coalition of private and public organizations working to restore and enhance the Golden State's riverside forests. The preserve is open to the public every day of the year, including holidays, from dawn until dusk.

The success we have enjoyed is a result of Audubon California's generous members. Our continued support will depend on the Audubon Kern River Preserve's ability to attract a similar level of support from people like you. Please consider becoming part of our history by joining Audubon Kern River Preserve. Thank you.


KRP Western Bluebird Sentry by Alison Sheehey © 1998

No Hunting © Alison Sheehey 2001
Wildlife Sanctuary © Alison Sheehey 2001

About Audubon Kern River Preserve
The Kern River Preserve is managed by Audubon California for the preservation of one of California’s largest contiguous cottonwood-willow riparian forests and the wildlife it supports.
Audubon Kern River Preserve supporters provide financial and volunteer support for Preserve outreach, education, wildlife habitat protection & stewardship.

Home Page | Site Map| About KRP | Education | KRP Supporters | Contact Us

Birding | Events | Wildlife
FESTIVALS: Spring Nature | Hummingbird | Turkey Vultures

Planned Giving - Bequests, Annuities, and other Long Term Gifts to the Kern River Preserve

Volunteer Workdays | Application | Newsletters

KRP History | KRP in the News | Kern Valley Pride Day | Achievements | Travel Information

Kern River Preserve • P.O. Box 1662 • 18747 Hwy. 178 • Weldon, CA 93283 • E-mail
Copyright 1998-2013 by Audubon California | National Audubon. All rights reserved.

This site was created on October 21, 1998. Please Email to make comments or offer suggestions.