The ‘tree farm': Trail traverses exotic varieties

Known colloquially as “the tree farm,” this attractive picnic and strolling spot is actually the site of extensive genetic research.

Known colloquially as “the tree farm,” this attractive picnic and strolling spot is actually the site of extensive genetic research.

Photo by Tom Angel

If escaping the confines and bustle of everyday city life is what you need this season, you will surely love a long walk through the USDA Forest Service Genetic Resource Center’s Nature Trail that runs alongside Comanche Creek.

Far from your usual stroll through the park, the trail offers a look at nature at its finest but is located only minutes from Highway 99 and the Skyway. It’s one of Chico’s best-kept secrets and a great place to escape to for enjoying a workday sack lunch or a short family outing.

The center—referred to alternately as the “demonstration forest” or simply the “tree farm”—prides itself on featuring trees from all over the world, a project that started back in 1904, when the site was originally assigned the purpose of plant breeding research and introducing plants from around the globe. Since those few initial specimens arrived, the center has expanded to display well over 130 different species of plants that are important to the world’s ecosystems.

The Giant Bamboo Forest, located along the trail and close to the main office, is especially impressive—and a fun surprise to find in the middle of Butte County. The miniature forests also include species from the Middle East, Asia, Europe and dozens of other locales.

The nature trail runs among the specimens, which are labeled with classification titles and common names, as well as the country in which they originated. We recommend going in the spring and early summer months, as these are the times when many of the trees are blossoming and developing the characteristics that set them apart from the traditional West Coast species we see around the rest of town.

Besides the opportunity to view unusual trees, grasses, shrubs and the like, you also get the chance to mingle with all sorts of critters of the forest. Rodents and birds are seen darting from tree to tree and alongside the winding path. The running creek only adds to the peaceful nature setting that has a decidedly different feel from local favorite Bidwell Park.

To get there, drive to the gate at the end of Kramer Lane, just off The Skyway in Southeast Chico (kind of by Raley’s).

Comanche Creek runs under wooden bridges, alongside picnic tables and through the tree farm.

Photo by Tom Angel

Office hours for the center are Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-noon. and 12:30 p.m.-4 p.m. At the main office, visitors can pick up pamphlets giving the history and location of the featured vegetation, as well as wildlife guides for the creatures that you are likely to see living in this uniquely created ecosystem. The trail is accessible at any time; just park outside the gate and walk on in.