Tom and Ginny Cahill at Putah Creek and the land they donated to the university in the background.
Tom and Ginny Cahill at Putah Creek and the land they donated to the university in the background.

A Lasting Legacy

Cahill gift of land will benefit the UC Davis Natural Reserve System

For the last 25 years, Tom and Ginny Cahill have owned and enjoyed a beautiful slice of blue oak woodlands and unspoiled riparian forest nestled along the south side of Putah Creek near Lake Berryessa. Now they’re giving it away.

The 196-acre parcel will become the Cahill Riparian Preserve, part of the UC Davis Natural Reserve System. It will be managed by the university in coordination with the new Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

The Cahills first learned about the property in 1988. “Ginny and I were looking for a couple of acres—not to develop, not to farm, just to enjoy,” Tom said. “Then this large parcel unexpectedly became available.”

Shortly before the Cahills purchased the property, a wildfire raced through it. “We were still sold on it,” he said. “I know ecology and that this land was designed to burn. The next spring there were wildflowers all over it like you wouldn’t believe.”

The Cahills have been good stewards of the land, and over the years have granted access to UC Davis scientists for research. While most of the area along the creek is undisturbed, some grassland had been grazed. To bring the land back to its original condition, the Cahills removed the cattle and let nature take its course. Nonnative yellow star thistle disappeared and native bunch grasses made a recovery. Native blue oaks, gray pine, redbud, and California buckeye are present, as are uncommon plants such as “yellow fairy lantern lily” and “farewell to spring.”

The property stretches about a mile along Putah Creek, a section managed as a premier catch-and-release trout stream. Wildlife observed in the preserve includes bear, coyote, bobcat, deer, mountain lion, river otter, and an abundance of insects and birds. Earlier this spring, rain brought out a large migration of newts.

Tom, a UC Davis emeritus professor of physics and atmospheric sciences, is renowned for his work on air pollution. He currently runs the Greenland aerosol program for the National Science Foundation to learn more about global climate change. Ginny is a highly respected water lawyer who teaches an undergraduate course in water law at UC Davis. The Cahills want the preserve to give a new generation of students and scientists the opportunity to study how the local ecology responds to a changing world.

“Our hope is that this becomes a research and teaching resource and a protected area for plants and animals,” Ginny said.

“This land donation is a natural follow-up to our 
love of nature,” Tom added. “We feel very strongly about it. It’s a will to nature, a will to the future, a will 
to the students.” 

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