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Cattle graze near a pond at Rockville Hills Park in Fairfield, Thursday. Some park users are questioning why cattle are used to graze the 650-acre park when Fairfield's 2002 Rockville Hills plan called for keeping cattle away from the ponds so the aquatic and wetlands habitat could thrive. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)


Cows graze unusual Rockville park location

By From page A1 | July 27, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Cows are in Rockville Hills Park at a time of year they usually are not – in a location they are usually not allowed to graze.

That is raising questions from some park users. They wonder why cows are wandering around the ponds on the park’s plateau. The city’s 2002 Rockville Hills plan called for keeping cattle away from the ponds to help the aquatic and wetlands habitat thrive.

“Why would you add this fencing to exclude cattle and suddenly have cattle inside?” park user Les Barclay said Thursday as he stood near the pond called Upper Lake. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Fairfield owns and manages the 633-acre park with trails along Rockville Road. City Landscape Supervisor Kathie Norris said the decision to let cows around the ponds stems from the drought.

“We actually have a fence to keep cattle away from the area,” Norris said. “But this year, we didn’t get the desired result from grazing sheep in the area. We are concerned about the fuel load and the potential for a fire escaping.”

Rockville Hills Park borders subdivisions in Green Valley.

The gates to the fences around the Upper Lake and Lower Lake area were opened about a week ago. Norris said the cows will be allowed to graze the area for a short duration, perhaps a couple of weeks, to reduce vegetation that can fuel fires.

Fairfield usually uses sheep to graze around the ponds because sheep are less intrusive to the environment than cows. But Norris said the sheep rented by the city and used earlier this year are off somewhere else on another fuel-controlling job.

“In the meantime, I don’t think it’s prudent to wait,” she said.

Dan Tilley is 80 years old and has lived next to Rockville Hills Park property since 1964. He helped get a 1982 Fairfield ballot initiative passed to stop city plans to build an 18-hole golf course at the park, along with a restaurant, conference center, giant water slide and tram.

He presented a petition to the city in 2002 with 1,000 signatures to keep cattle out of the park, though city officials and the City Council decided cattle were needed to eat grass that could fuel wildfires.

Tilley doesn’t like the results he sees from having the cows near the ponds. He pointed Thursday to a blue heron standing in Upper Lake. A white egret stood on the other side of the pond, next to a group of 17 cows.

“There are bulrushes up there,” Tilley said. “They’re full of nesting birds. They (cows) are eating the bulrushes right down to the water.”

Tilley said the cows don’t eat the dry grass that is the worst fire danger. He doesn’t see that allowing the cows near the pond is having the desired results.

Cows foul the water and area with manure, Tilley and Barclay said.

“People step in it and dogs roll in it,” Tilley said.

Norris said that, if the cattle do more harm than good, the city will have to wait until the sheep can come back.

“We’re in a delicate situation, because we have to balance the two,” Norris said.

Cattle generally graze in the park from January to late May. Norris said the late rains this year changed the situation, with the cattle grazer used by the city selling off his herd before the rains, not having enough cattle after the rains came and having to buy as much cattle as he could.

Clearly, the cattle issue frustrates Tilley.

“This is one of the poorest-managed parks in the Bay Area,” he said.

But a family passing by perked him up. Reaching Upper Lake on this warm day meant the man, woman and several children had hiked more than a mile along some steep terrain.

“It makes me so happy to see families here enjoying it,” Tilley said. “It just makes me feel so happy to see how utilized the park is.”

Upper Lake looks like a pond on its way to becoming a puddle, a fraction of its usual size. Tilley estimates the pond is 30 percent full and said it will probably dry up in coming months, as it did last year.

That’s yet another sign of the three-year drought.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.

Discussion | 18 comments

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  • Ulises S. GuberJuly 26, 2014 - 10:16 pm

    so now 80, Tilley in 1982 stopped city plans to build an 18-hole golf course at the park, along with a restaurant, conference center, giant water slide and tram ? wow ---- lets get that back on the ballot, I bet we get a different outcome. Thanks a lot Tilley.. Mo0O0O0ooo.........

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  • FredJuly 27, 2014 - 4:19 am

    Hey U.S. Guber, how are FF's two money losing, money pits Golf Courses workin out?

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  • Ulises S. GuberJuly 27, 2014 - 11:38 am

    marvelous Fred, just marvelous, but really a water park would have been nice however near Cordelia off 80 next to Scandia but now we have something like that at allan witt park , oh well can't go back to 1982 ....

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  • TylerJuly 27, 2014 - 12:36 pm

    Yeah, just what FF needs - another magnet for out of towners who can't get enough of the crappy mall and Edwards Theater.

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  • Ulises S. GuberJuly 27, 2014 - 4:56 pm

    You should move into a hamster ball....

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  • FredJuly 27, 2014 - 6:07 pm

    Well you have Mraz et al to thank for the Fairfield Plunge, as in another Money Pit.

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  • JimboJuly 26, 2014 - 10:43 pm

    There is more than one pack of sheep and goats that graze areas. This reeks of a favor to a cattle farmer.

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  • PaqkleaderJuly 27, 2014 - 12:33 am

    Agreed ↑↑↑ .where there are cows..there is generally habitat degredation...

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  • Ulises S. GuberJuly 27, 2014 - 11:49 am

    coyotes attack sheep, coyotes don't attack cows, but coyotes do go after calfs and attack cows giving birth. Coyotes are looking for food and water as a result of our Drought ....

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  • elleryJuly 27, 2014 - 1:55 am

    If not for Dan Tilley we would not be able to enjoy this beautiful park. The blue heron and the egret are permanent residents of the lake , I visit 3 times a week and they are allways their, now their habitat is being destroyed. The same people that fix our potholes in Fairfield are responsible for this park, they don't have a clue. I Hope this is not giving the residents of the houses that should have never been built so near this gem a false sense of security that this action will protect their houses from fire. Thank you Dan, keep up the good work.

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  • elon munskJuly 27, 2014 - 2:17 am

    keep up the good work Dan.

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  • FredJuly 27, 2014 - 4:11 am

    You can clearly see in the pic's that the cattle are eating only the green vegetation. FF is clueless here just like when they closed off parking & access to the other entrance just up the road. In the meantime the folks in East Ridge just wonder in without paying.

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  • BobJuly 27, 2014 - 5:55 am

    Hey, Fred; what do you suppose the folks in "East Ridge" are wondering about?

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  • FredJuly 27, 2014 - 9:22 am

    Well Bob, they are wondering if their insurance will cover everything in case of fire as they wander by the lake & see that the cattle are only eating green vegetation, destroying the beauty of the lake & not helping to control the fire danger. Did I spell everything correct this time Bob? How's the grammar?

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  • MadelineJuly 27, 2014 - 11:37 am

    This is devastating. Everyone knows there is more than one goat herding company. Find out which Council person said "stop looking for another company to hire" in case of and there is the culprit. Everyone always has a plan B hire but not Fairfield. Their plan B is how can "I" put money in my pocket by seling out the tax payer's few resources. This stinks more than the manure the cows put out! As you can see Dan the power of the voter is dying expotentially to the greed of the politician and small towns like Fairfield have a concentration that defies description. Think Vallejo, Stockon, there were good working people there trusting officials to do the 'right' thing. Not today. The truth and trust worth Investing in is not of this earth or dimension. Praise and Peace out.

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  • WeaverwomanJuly 27, 2014 - 6:34 pm

    Yes, they could hire a different herd, however, they would most likely have to put it on the meeting agenda (which would take a bit of tme to do), then vote on it (whenever they get enough present to vote), then put it out for bid (which of course will cost who knows some absorbanant amount) interview applacants, gather again when all are back from all those more important things than they have been elected for, agree on it, then pay the company. Let's see, maybe by 2016 we may see sheep up there again?

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  • Just a thoughtJuly 27, 2014 - 7:33 pm

    I'm sure the city has a contract with a "Goat Herder". They could do a simple RFQ or Informal Bid & procure another in a matter of weeks. No need to go to council. I think it was a simple brain storm that said well let’s just let the cattle graze it down even though that fence was installed for a reason. Probably a case of city management taking the easy way out & thinking they could get away with it.

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  • WeaverwomanJuly 27, 2014 - 6:37 pm

    And don't forget the consulting firm cost and time....

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