From Prairie to Park
Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the late 1700's, this area was an open prairie, where roaming herds of elk and deer grazed on perennial grasses. By the late1800's, nearly all of the grasslands had been divided up into large cattle ranches and some smaller farms.
Named for Carl Mather, a World War I test pilot, Mather Field was established in 1918. During World War II, Mather Field was used as a training facility for pilots, navigators, bombardiers and observers. From the 1950's through the 1980's, the primary mission of Mather Field was to provide training for Air Force staff. The end of the World War and military downsizing forced the closure of Mather Air Force (...) in 1993.
In 1995, Mather Regional Park and Mather Airport were established. The park encompasses approximately 1,430 acres in the southeastern portion of the former base. In addition to Mather Lake, Mather Regional Park contains the 18-hole championship Mather Golf Course, grasslands and seasonal wetlands. Mather Airport supports general aviation facilities and has become a thriving air cargo hub.
Water, Water Everywhere
Mather Lake was created when Air Force personnel constructed a dam across Morrison Creek in the 1950's. Morrison Creek is the primary source of water for Mather Lake. Rainfall and overland flow provide additional water.
Morrison Creek is a seasonal stream, carrying water only during the rainy months. Inflow to the lake stops when evaporation from the lake begins to increase. As a result, the lake could dry up during the dry season without additional water. In the past, pipelines from gold mining operations and water pumped from the Folsom South Canal were utilized to keep the lake full in the summer.
Since 1997, the lake has received a continuous flow of treated water from wells located on the former Air Force base. This supplemental water source provides for stable water levels in the summer and fall. The additional water is expected to be available until 2022.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Shortly after the dam was built, the wetland habitats in and around the lake began to take shape. The light fluffy seeds of cattail and cottonwood drifted in on the wind. Seeds of many wetland plants were carried to the newly formed lake in waters of Morrison Creek. Other plants came to Mather Lake as seeds carried in the feathers, fur and guts of birds and mammals.
In time, the plants responded to Mather Lake's changing depths and varied side slopes, sorting themselves into the plant communities you see today. As trees, shrubs and wetland plants colonized the lake and its shores, animals began to move in, taking advantage of the food and shelter provided by the vegetation.
Mather Lake's thriving ecosystem remains vulnerable to outside disruptions. As the area around Mather Lake is developed, the potential for toxic or nutrient-laden runoff carried in Morrison Creek increases. In addition, a long-term supplemental water supply must be secured in order to maintain the lake's stability.
The California Department of Fish and Game usually stocks the lake with 100 pounds of channel catfish (100 fish) and rainbow trout (200 fish) per week during their respective stocking seasons. Catfish stocking occurs between June and October, trout stocking occurs between November and May.
Several other fish species, including largemouth bass, bluegill, and green sunfish are present in the lake. These fish were introduced to the lake through past stocking operations or in water pumped from Folsom South Canal.
Large numbers of mosquito fish live in the lake. They are successful in keeping the mosquito population in check, but may consume insects that perform important roles in the aquatic ecosystems.
All For One
Sacramento County Regional Parks can't do it all. Many groups and individuals participate in the planning, construction and maintenance of Mather Reginal Park's facilities and the preservation of its natural resources.
Volunteers plant trees, maintain shelters, clean up after others, and assist Parks staff with project planning. Groups that lend a hand at Mather Regional Park include Rotary Clubs of Sacramento, Friends of Mather Park, California Native Plant Society, Boy Scouts of America and Sacramento Audubon.
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
In the past, the Air Force often developed land and constructed projects like the dam at Mather Lake. But development may damage plant and animal communities.
As the region's population continues to grow and Mather Regional Park becomes surrounded by development, the pressure on the park's natural resources will continue to increase. Sacramento County Regional Parks is engaged in the responsible planning of recreation facilities while balancing the preservation of the Park's many fragile habitats.