MMWD rangers participate in a fire training exercise
MMWD Senior Ranger Phil Johnson says that when people learn what he does for a living, they usually assume he works for the state or national park system. In fact, MMWD’s ranger program—created in 1917—is one of the oldest in the state. With more than 21,000 acres of public land under our stewardship, MMWD’s rangers play a critical role in protecting our water and other natural resources, as well as the millions of people who visit the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed each year.
Every day is different for MMWD’s six rangers, who wear multiple hats as the watershed’s police, firefighters, medics, search and rescue team, naturalists and historians. One day may be spent looking for a lost child, the next extinguishing a wildfire. As you might imagine, the job requires extensive, ongoing training.
Rangers are on duty whenever the watershed is open—seven days a week, sunrise to sunset—as well as on-call for emergencies. You can help make their jobs easier when you visit by letting others know where you’ll be going and by following our land-use regulations.
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by Jaimie Baxter
Do you love learning about Mt. Tamalpais and its plants and animals? Explore the northern side of the mountain, participate in fun activities and become a Citizen Scientist.
The Marin Municipal Water District believes that exposing youth to real scientific projects and the outdoors is the best way to instill environmental stewardship. And, lucky for us, the California Academy of Sciences does too! Citizen science is a big part of what we do on Mt. Tamalpais, so we welcome you to join us for a very special event on the first Saturday of May. What is Citizen science? In essence, it is “the study of nature by the people who live in it, which means YOU!” We encourage you and your families to join us in being environmental stewards to Mt. Tamalpais.
In 2012, the Marin Municipal Water District and the California Academy of Sciences teamed up to conduct a Botanical Bioblitz—a large scale survey of every single plant species on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. This multi-year effort involves citizens, botanists, nature photographers and students alike. Click here for more information about this project.
On Saturday, May 4, from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., MMWD and the California Academy of Sciences are hosting a “Sprouting Scientist” event at Lake Lagunitas in Fairfax. Both organizations will be on top of the dam at Lake Lagunitas to facilitate family-friendly, hands-on, science-based activities. Our Botanical Bioblitz, a real scientific project, is occurring on the same day, so families can come join the fun of collecting and recording all the plant species in the surrounding area. Come find out what it means to be a Citizen Scientist! Prizes will be handed out to all families who participate. The event is free, although the usual parking fee of $8.00 per vehicle still applies.
For more information, visit our website or contact email@example.com or (415) 945-1128.
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by Charlene Burgi
Spring is in the air. One minute the sun is warming the earth, and the next minute we are donning raincoats and grabbing umbrellas. While the weather is unpredictable, springtime consistently produces some of the most glorious wildflowers to be seen.
As I drove to Marin this week, I noticed sweet drifts of pink creeping phlox showing up along the roadside that, not so long ago, was covered in snow. Brilliant orange poppies spun their gold through meadows and the redbud shrubs burst into color as if vying for attention. New growth of green from deciduous trees seemed to dance through the forest of conifers still bearing the scars of winter storms.
I love spring. Everything seems to come alive. During one of those rare sky-blue warm days in March, I grabbed my camera and set out for a walk around the ranch hoping to find some wildlife to capture digitally. While nothing furry appeared before my lens, I did come across the most beautiful glossy yellow wildflowers. I was stunned by the intense color and couldn’t walk by without capturing their loveliness to share with you. I soon learned that the sagebrush buttercup, Ranunculus glaberrimus, is listed as a California native in the northeast part of the state. Amazingly, very few sightings are registered on the CalFlora website. Even more amazing is there is another buttercup, glossy buttercup, that looks much like the sagebrush buttercup but is considered a nocuous weed in many states. Research revealed subtle differences between the two, and I was greatly relieved that I wasn’t promoting an invasive weed!
My research on this little yellow beauty made me think about people collecting seeds from wildflowers. I wondered how many research their discoveries prior to gathering and sowing their finds. Many people new to Marin see the gorgeous yellow blooming bushes during this time of year. They frequent nurseries asking for the plants, not realizing those bushes are invasive Scotch and French brooms we are fighting to eradicate on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and in other parts of Marin. Once again, it is important to know your plants before propagating them!
Speaking of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, there are many wonderful spots to hike and see wildflowers this time of year. Take a stroll around Lake Lagunitas or explore the different habitats along Rocky Ridge. I hear that the iris and lupines are particularly beautiful this year! This is also the time of year to explore Days Island in Novato where native rockrose is found exclusively along with one other place in the Mediterranean. Those seeds are collected for propagation purposes. And the rockrose is a sure winner for planting in native gardens. (As a reminder, seed collecting is not permitted on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed.)
If you are interested in adding native plants to your garden, don’t miss the Marin California Native Plant Society’s Annual Spring Plant Sale tomorrow, April 13, from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at Green Point Nursery in Novato. While visiting Marin, I spoke to staff members at the College of Marin and learned the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden also has its Spring Plant Sale coming up next weekend, April 20 – 21. In addition to native plants, they will be selling many organic vegetable starts. This is the perfect opportunity to collect healthy native and vegetable starter plants that thrive in the garden. Will I see you there?
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Completed bridge over Little Carson Creek. For more pictures, see our Facebook album.
Over a three-week period in February, crews from MMWD’s Watershed Maintenance staff and Conservation Corps North Bay built a beautiful log footbridge over Little Carson Creek on the east side of Kent Lake. The new bridge, located at the foot of Little Carson Trail in an area called Big Trees Grove, was built to keep foot traffic out of the creek. It is part of a larger project designed to improve water quality and fisheries habitat while creating a safer and more sustainable hiking trail. Other future elements of the project include converting a 100-year-old logging road to a trail and removing two culverts to minimize road-related sediment delivery to Little Carson Creek and Kent Lake.
The base and footings of the footbridge were made from a large, 48-inch diameter, 50-foot long redwood tree that had fallen many years ago near the work site. Based on the tree’s rings, MMWD Watershed Maintenance Supervisor Carl Sanders estimated its age at over 300 years old when it fell. Using ropes and cables, the crews were able to drag the tree 200 feet upstream without damaging the stream and its banks.
The handrails, made from a smaller redwood tree, are attached to the log base by mortise and tenon joinery. The completed bridge enhances the natural beauty of the grove and allows hikers to cross the stream safely without damaging the stream and its banks.
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by Ariana Chiapella
Volunteers gather at Little Carson Falls.
We are approaching the exciting time of year when MMWD’s Frog Docent program returns. The foothill yellow-legged frog (FYLF) is a federally listed species of “special concern,” and here in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed we have only two remaining breeding sites for a species that is in decline throughout its range. The habitat at Little Carson Falls also happens to be a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers and dog-walkers.
Because of this, it is vital to have enthusiastic people at the falls to educate visitors about the importance of protecting this special spot and its inhabitants. This is where our volunteers come in. They have helped MMWD educate hundreds of visitors about the FYLF, why it is important to respect and protect their habitat, and gather data that has helped professional herpetologists monitor the population of the frogs.
Foothill yellow-legged frogs in amplexus. Photo by Frog Docent Matthew Sykes.
The coming season looks promising for this unique program; we have had a few good rains so far, and for those who have been out on Azalea Hill, you may already know that this means that the falls have lots of water! In my opinion, there’s no better place in the watershed to volunteer.
We will have our initial training day for Frog Docents on Saturday, March 2, from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Sky Oaks Ranger Station in Fairfax. We’ll start off with some refreshments and a presentation from one of the biologists who is working with the district on compiling and analyzing the data gathered by our volunteers. We’ll then hike up to see the falls. Volunteers will sign up for their weekend time slots (March-June) at Little Carson Falls through Google Calendar. This will be a great opportunity to meet like-minded nature enthusiasts, help out a species in need, be active and spend time outside—so many New Year’s resolutions packed into one!
For anyone out there who wants to band together to protect this important native frog species and form a community of wildlife stewards, this program is for you. Please tell your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors so that they can join in the fun too! We love and are always looking for new volunteers. No special skills or experience are needed, but volunteers must be 18 years or older.
If you have any questions, comments or want to sign up for our training, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 945-1128!
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You can now purchase an annual parking pass to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed using our website and PayPal. You don’t need a PayPal account to make your purchase. It’s fast, convenient and safe, and we’ll send your parking pass by standard mail directly to your door.
The passes are valid for one year from the date of issue and allow visitors to park in designated areas of the watershed that are accessed via Sky Oaks Road off Fairfax-Bolinas Road. The cost is $60 for Marin residents, $100 for out-of-county residents and $30 for seniors. Click this link for more information and to purchase an annual pass.
You can also purchase annual passes in person at our office at 220 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or you can download a parking pass form from our website and mail a check.
The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed encompasses 18,500 acres on the slopes of the mountain and offers incomparable opportunities to enjoy nature including hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding, wildlife viewing and picnicking. Visitors will find scenic vistas, oak woodlands, meadows, evergreen forests, lakes, waterfalls and 150 miles of hiking trails and unpaved roads. The watershed is also home to great natural diversity including over 900 species of plants and 400 species of animals.
MMWD owns and manages the land as a primary source of drinking water for residents of central and southern Marin, with five of our seven reservoirs located on Mt. Tam. The watershed is open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset. Daily vehicle passes are $8.
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In collaboration with the major public land management agencies in Marin County celebrating anniversaries this year, MMWD is pleased to offer a free visitor’s guide to Marin County’s park lands.
The guide includes a map of the 143,000 acres of public lands in the county and suggestions for activities to enjoy on these lands year round, such as hikes and bike rides and sites for viewing wildlife and unique flora. The guide is available for free in the district’s customer service lobby at 220 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera and at the Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. There is also an electronic copy available on our website.
2012 marks the anniversary of several of Marin’s public land management agencies. MMWD turned 100 years old on April 25, making it the first municipal water district in California. MMWD’s purchase of watershed lands and donations from the Kent family on Mt. Tamalpais were close on the heels of the creation of Muir Woods National Monument and a keystone in what is now a major network of public parks preserving Marin’s natural beauty and biological treasures. Also celebrating anniversaries in 2012, Golden Gate National Recreation Area turned 75, Tomales Bay State Park turned 60, Point Reyes National Seashore turned 50 and Marin County Parks turned 40. In addition to these anniversaries, MMWD shares with these agencies the common mission of land stewardship to preserve Marin County’s public lands.
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by Jaimie Baxter
The month of June brings us the longest days of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere. The extra hours of day are loved by the flora, fauna, children and adults of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed. This bountiful time of year provided us with the energy needed to accomplish so much.
On the first Saturday in June, we celebrated National Trails Day with a “trailgating” party on the watershed. Thanks to the efforts of forty volunteers, the Fern Creek Trail and Tavern Pump Road look absolutely stunning. The group replaced countless water bars and cut back excessive vegetation. After a morning of hard work, the group was rewarded with a pleasant lunch at the historic West Point Inn.
June’s habitat restoration event was a scorcher! However, we had a few dedicated restoration volunteers brave the heat and remove Douglas-fir at Lagunitas-Rock Road and Ridgecrest Boulevard. It seemed like Christmas in June with the smell of Douglas-fir perfuming the air.
On June 23, we hosted a centennial celebration on the watershed to mark MMWD’s 100-year anniversary. Close to 400 people took part in naturalist hikes and presentations on the sounds of Lake Lagunitas, tracks and scat, dragonflies and damselflies, beginning birding and much more. Tule basket weaving was taught and many watershed bingo games were played. Along with the fun events around Lake Lagunitas and Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters, the California Academy of Sciences and MMWD watershed staff led a “bioblitz” on the southern portion of Mt. Tamalpais. The bioblitz brought botanists, citizen citizens, conservation photographers and others together to collect data on the mountain’s plant species. It was a tremendous success and loads of fun. There were beautiful specimens of tiger lily, coyote mint and many others!
Thank you to all of our volunteers for your hard work! We really appreciate all that you do for the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, and if it could speak, I am sure it would thank you as well. And if you haven’t volunteered before, now’s a great time to start. We have a habitat restoration event on San Geronimo Creek coming up next Saturday, July 21. Did we mention ice cream will be served? And our next Trail Crew event will be Saturday, August 4. This will be Jessica and Jaimie’s (MMWD’s AmeriCorps members) very last event! Come join the fun and say farewell to them. Visit our Volunteer Program webpage to learn more.
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by Michael Horwitz
Foothill yellow-legged frog mating pair (Photo courtesy of Mathew Sykes)
Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to our watershed lands each year. Some of the most popular trails on Mt. Tamalpais are those with sweeping vistas, rugged landscapes and beautiful waterfalls. One trail, Little Carson Falls, has the winning combination of all three elements, and as a result, is one of the most frequented trails on the watershed. However, Little Carson Falls is not just a popular gathering place for people. It also holds the trifecta of cold water, slow velocity flow and abundance of cobble substrate, which makes it ideal habitat for the foothill yellow-legged frog (FYLF). The resulting overlap of heavy foot traffic and delicate breeding habitat at Little Carson Falls could spell trouble for a species that is already in decline.
The FYLF is listed as both a federal and state Species of Special Concern. It has disappeared from more than 45 percent of its historic range in Oregon and California due to habitat loss and degradation, disease, and the introduction of exotic predators. In the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, the breeding habitat of the foothill yellow-legged frog has been reduced from four streams to two due to heavy recreational impacts and exotic predators.
For the past eight years the Marin Municipal Water District has coordinated a Frog Docent Program that has trained volunteers to monitor conditions and be a voice for the FYLF out at the falls. Volunteer docents are asked to commit to three 4-hour shifts between mid-March and early June, when eggs and tadpoles are at their most vulnerable. This year’s docents put in over 90 hours and made contact with over 400 hikers during some of the busiest weekends in spring and early summer. These docents successfully got dogs on leashes and people away from the water by showing visitors that life exists in the falls and informing them about this special, at-risk species.
Thank you Ruthann, Peter B., Rachel, Jim, Merna, Katherine, Lorri, Peter D., Mary, Colette, Emily, Anne, Bruce and Mathew. Your enthusiasm and interest in these frogs was amazing and the district was so lucky to have volunteers like you.
For more information, see the Frog Docent Season Summary 2012 by AmeriCorps Intern Michael Horwitz.
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by Elisa Ignatius
Mallard with ducklings
Though I wasn’t sure what I’d encounter on a Wild Sound Safari on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, I was intrigued by the idea. Our guide, Gina Farr from Wild Sound Stories, volunteered to lead a hike for MMWD’s centennial celebration on the watershed on June 23. Her version of a safari is to tune into the sounds around you—in front of you, to the side of you, overhead, near and far. I usually walk around Lake Lagunitas chatting with a friend and occasionally stop to appreciate the scenery. But in addition to the sights, Gina opened our awareness to the sounds, pointing out that your vision is limited to what’s in front of you or in your peripheral vision, but that your hearing spans 360 degrees around you.
Our group of about ten walked the circumference of the lake mostly in silence with occasional whispers to point out the source of a bird call (brown creepers, a moorhen) or the crunching of leaves off trail (a deer near a creek). A special treat of the outing was a mallard and her ducklings swimming within arm’s reach of the shore, something we might not have heard or seen had we not been so quiet and attentive.
For Gina, sound has shape and some sounds interact with their environment, such as the wind, which is silent until it passes another object. The sound of the wind through the trees is both pleasant and melancholic to me, and I imagined the wind shaped like soft ribbons flowing through the bay laurels, oaks and redwoods around the lake.
At the end of our safari, we sat near the edge of Collier Spring, an iconic babbling brook that flows into Lake Lagunitas. Gina led us through a 10-minute meditation guiding our imaginations from a drop of rain floating gently down from the sky, meeting with a leaf and falling together into the creek where they continue their journey to the lake. My tensions and worries of the day floated away in that beautiful setting of sight and sound.
Visit Gina Farr’s Wild Sound Stories website: wildsoundstories.com.
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