by Paul Scott, Volunteer Watershed Ambassador
Bon Tempe Lake on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed
Earth Day is upon us! This is the time to ponder our relationship with our one and only planet. In this regard a major force for me has been Mt. Tamalpais, the “crown jewel” being MMWD’s watershed lands.
The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed consists of five reservoirs and primarily the north-facing slopes of the mountain that shed rainwater into them. These “lakes” have been here long enough that they are now a focal point for the diversity of flora and fauna found here. Camping, hunting, swimming, and boating are a no-no and cars have very limited access, so it’s an oasis of sorts for natural processes to occur with minimal human disruption. While the “purpose” of these lands is to provide clean drinking water, requiring wise ecological practices, we are also blessed with their biodiversity and many recreational opportunities.
The natural resources staff work out of Sky Oaks Watershed Headquarters located in the hills above Fairfax and in close proximity to three of the reservoirs. Their volunteer program offers abundant opportunity for young and old, all geared toward environmental education, wise resource management, and furthering community spirit. As a volunteer and near-daily visitor to the watershed lands myself, I see folks come to visit with smiles on their faces. Many of them are “regulars” who tell me they feel the same way I do about the area—it is a place of peace and sanctuary. I’m amazed how many come from other countries, but I’m most surprised when I meet local people who had no idea all this was here.
Come develop your relationship with your watershed—for Earth Day and any day. Experience a fine example of how humans can make use of natural resources in an intelligent and sympathetic manner for everything and everyone to share.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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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