The Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve at Black Mountain is located between Prather and Tollhouse, on the south side of Lodge Road. Black Mountain is clearly visible from portions of the Highway 168 “four lane” to Shaver Lake. The Preserve was established in 1991 through a generous gift from Dr. Bill Miller, a former chemistry professor at Fresno State (now CSUF.) The property was originally given to the Nature Conservancy and then transferred to Sierra Foothill Conservancy in 1996. This was one of SFC’s first properties and it helped to establish a base to grow our land conservation work on Black Mountain.
As opportunities were presented, SFC continued to expand land conservation work on Black Mountain. The Preserve which is owned and managed by SFC, is now over 1,500 acres. SFC has also partnered with adjacent landowners to help them place conservation easements on their properties. In December of 2012, SFC completed a 2,011 acre conservation easement on the south side of the Black Mountain, bringing the total conservation area to over 4,300 acres.
The Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve has two quite distinct habitats: dense, woody chaparral on the north-facing slope and grassland/oak woodland on the south-facing slope. Because of its elevation, about 3600 feet above sea level, Black Mountain receives much more rain than Table Mountain. Once or twice a winter, it is white with snow. In fact, it receives about twice as much precipitation as the valley floor. As a result of this extra moisture, the plant life is abundant and extremely varied.
In March, April and May, over a hundred different kinds of flowering plants, some quite rare, cover the slopes with their blooms. Animal life is correspondingly rich. The preserve’s most distinctive plant is a large shrub with gorgeous white blooms called Carpenteria or Tree Anemone (Carpenteria californica), that flowers in early May. Carpenteria is a true rarity, growing in the wild only in the foothills of central Fresno County and one small area in Madera County, between 2500 and 4000 feet elevation.
Hiking on the Miller Preserve is easy as much of the hike is on a dirt road. The distance from the preserve headquarters to the top of the mountain is about a mile and a half. An optional extension is a mile-long trail from near the summit to the eastern end of the ridge, making a round trip of about six miles. This preserve is especially recommended for families with children but strong hikers can also find challenges.
Directions to the Mary Elizabeth Miller Preserve at Black Mountain
From Prather continue on Highway 168 2.75 miles to the first stop sign. There will be a Park & Ride on your right. Go through the intersection and onto Lodge Road. At about 1/8 mile you will see Sierra Hills Baptist Church on your right. Just beyond the church’s driveway is Black Mountain Lane. Turn right. Go 1.5 miles to a green gate across the road (not a driveway gate). Go another 1.5 miles to a driveway on your right. Go down the driveway about 100 ft. and you will see the house and office.