Loving a Meadow Back to Life


Citizens of Mammoth, CA united to restore Snow Creek Meadow Preserve and turn it into a community asset. | Michael Swimmer

Fifteen years ago Snow Creek Meadow Preserve was a nameless discarded place, the undevelopable floodplain around Mammoth’s Snow Creek Condos in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Then in 1996, a group of friends including a landscape architect, two civil engineers, an Olympic gold medalist, and a graphic artist, decided to restore the area.  One civil engineer proposed raising $50,000 to design heavy-handed changes.  However, the group ultimately chose a softer path and, now 16 years later, the meadow is transformed into a community asset on a shoestring budget.  How did they do it?

Snow Creek Meadow Preserve conservationist and American Rivers supporter, Michael Swimmer, described it to me one evening.

The first step was to give the meadow a name –a preserve- to change the community’s perception of the place.  Then they put in trail signs, and chose a route through the tangle of existing dirt-bike paths that gradually became the established route.  Within one year, littering and trampling stopped, and with impacts concentrated along the trails, management became much easier. Moreover, walkers enjoyed defined paths and established destinations.  All along the route the duck and flower emblem reminded visitors that the meadow serves a purpose.  The group of friends went on to build bridges, create community work days and win long-term protection. 

When I walked through the preserve with Michael and friends, we saw walkers, anglers, people laughing and one man in a suit and tie sitting on a new bench. With his legs crossed, he alternated between reading the Bible that was open on his lap and gazing across the lush meadow to the glacial carved peaks of Mount Sherman. Michael put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “You know you have done something right, when someone thinks your meadow is a sacred place and comes here to pray.” 

American Rivers is working on mountain meadow restoration projects throughout California, to safeguard clean water, provide habitat, and improve water storage capacity.

Snow Creek Meadow in Mammoth, CA

Snow Creek Meadow Preserve is now a community gathering place with hiking trails and benches to rest and enjoy the views. | Michael Swimmer