Skip directly to content

Rob Thayer

Rob Thayer
Professor of Landscape Architecture
Our relationship to technology and our relationship to Nature are intertwined.

Rob Thayer is a retired Professor of Landscape Architecture at UC Davis. He served on the Board of Directors of the Cache Creek Conservancy from 1999 to 2005. 



What do you see around you? 


I am delighted to see the preserve in the shape that it is in now. I see a wonderful scene of flowing river, creek flowing high, and no bad vegetation. From my vantage point, I see almost no arundo or tamarisk, which was a big issue when I was on the Board. It’s fun being back here to see the riparian vegetation popping back out. It is one of the reasons we started this, to get the creek back in shape. 


Whether at this location or the Preserve as a whole, why is this place important to you? 


The reason I came to this very spot is because for me the Preserve has always been the creek itself. I always felt that the word “nature” in Nature Preserve was concentrated and linked to the riparian corridor. I’m glad that it was made. The whole reason the Preserve exists is because voters passed Measure D, which allows the mining companies to continue mining as long as they restore the creek. It’s vital. First,we need the gravel. Secondly, we need to restore the creek. It was a win-win situation. The gravel mining donated the site, which led to the restoration of the creek and the formation of the Conservancy. To me, it was all about being next to the creek in the riparian zone and that is why I wanted to be here. 


Does any of the experience stand out the most to you? 


The experience that stands out the most was working with Shannon Brawley, who was the founder of the Tending and Gathering Garden. Shannon was a student of mine in the undergraduate program in landscape architecture. Her senior project was to design a garden that enables native people to gather native plants for basketry. She was going to use the project and put it in the Arboretum at UC Davis. Then, she got permission to do a demonstration garden here. By the time I left the board, she was pretty much done with it. 


What was your favorite experience here? What was your least favorite? 


My best experience was when a group of internationally recognized cultural and environmental leaders came on a bus sponsored by the United Nations. They came to visit the Preserve, to interview Shannon and to see the Tending and Gathering Garden. They came from all over the world: South America, Europe, and Asia. They were part of nonprofit organizations that were doing similar things in their country. To see them all get out of the bus and come to this Preserve to talk to Shannon and have a positive response to what was going on here was really wonderful. As for the negative experiences with Cache Creek,they have less to do with this place and more to do with policy issues. 


Could you tell us what you know about gravel mining? 


I don’t know a lot about gravel mining, but they have for more than a decade paid for this restoration and running this place. In 1994, I wrote a book called Grey World/Green Heart: Technology, Nature and Sustainable Landscape. In the book, I said that our relationship to technology and our relationship to nature are entwined. We all are consumers of gravel: we walk on sidewalks, we drive on the street, and we make concrete. We need to take responsibility for our own demands. So, I have nothing against the gravel industries, I’m glad that they are paying their percentages into the county coffer which pays for the restoration of the creek and some funding for the Conservancy and the operation of the CacheCreek Natural Preserve. 


What kind of impacts has the Preserve had on you or others you know? 


I would say that the Preserve has an incredible impact on young kids. My wife, Lacy, brought her 3rd graders out here for 8 years in order to learn at the different environmental education stations. This was often their most favorite event. As for me, the creek is more important than the old gravel pit, which is a wetland area now. 


Do you think you can tell us any stories you might have about this environment? 


I have an issue I would like to mention. The issue of restoring Cache Creek, I believe,lies in the source of water. The creek is essentially dry during the summer, from the bridge here down to the settling basin. I was frustrated on the Board because nobody wanted to bring up the “W” word, which is water. How you restore a creek in a creek channel ecologically without a source of permanent water? There is a reliable source of water flowing down Putah Creek now and it has never been better environmentally. If you have a stream with water, vegetation comes, wildlife comes, and the ecosystem heals itself. If you ask me what I would do to create a healthier creek, I would make sure there was at least 25-50 cubic feet per second of water flowing underneath that bridge all throughout the summer. That should be extracted from the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. 


Are there any other additional thoughts or experiences that you’d like to share? 


This is a very personal but sad story of mine. There was a movement to get an area by the creek labeled as a state Wild and Scenic River. I thought it was a good idea; I felt that Measure D has a responsibility to restore the creek. When we came to testify at the hearing in the state’s capital, Jan Lowrey, who was a good friend of mine, testified against it. I felt like it was a wrong position to take, and we got into a kind of an argument. When he died of a heart attack suddenly, I felt horrible and it never heals. I felt very bad and I think it is important that the record shows sometimes you can have arguments with the people you respect. Later on, I suggested naming the Preserve after Jan. 


I was wondering what you hope to see from the Preserve in the future. 


I always felt that the Preserve should invite people down to touch the creek, perhaps even more so than it has already. The Nature Preserve exists because it is all about the creek. Nature is not something that consists of gravel pits. Nature is an enveloping matrix in which we live, and it is a particular thread that runs through the whole Preserve. Therefore, the creek itself is the environmental blood stream. I would like to see the entrance have a view right down to the water, so when people get out of their car they see that: a view-shed and water flowing by and two banks of the stream and all the functions. To me, that is the heart of the Preserve.

Written by: 
Huy Nguyen

To download the audio, right click on the audio link above and scroll to "Save link as . . ." and choose the directory where you want to store the mp3. In Windows, you may have to use Control + S to select the link.