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Star Creek Ranch Adventure

Touring the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County's 1,200-acre Star Creek Ranch.

by Eric Johnson

March 29, 2014—When the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County bought the 1,200-acre Star Creek Ranch, southeast of Watsonville, in 2012, the purchase was heralded as a major event in local land conservation. This was largely due to the property's location, linking several other big ranches, and preserving a wildlife corridor between the southern Santa Cruz Mountains and the Gabilan Range.

This was also a big deal because Star Creek is an ecological wonderland, home to cougars, badgers, golden eagles, and Pescadero Creek—a critical steelhead habitat. The purchase was a critical piece of the Land Trust's major effort to protect a significant portion of the region it dubbed the Pajaro Hills.

With 24 miles of trails and unpaved roads, a big piece of the property is destined to be a park, but because of access issues that is probably not on the near horizon. Meanwhile, the Land Trust is working to make the place accessible on a limited basis.

The Land Trust's first members-only tour of Star Creek Ranch on Saturday was the first chance many people got to see this gem. Six trails were open—three mixed-use, one hiking-only and one mountain-biking-only. Shuttles providied members an easy was to get to the spectacular views from the aptly-named High Point Road.

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We've hiked or ridden miles and miles of trails throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, and have never seen anyplace quite like Star Creek Ranch. The trails we walked, up high on the property, offered gorgeous views of the emerald rolling Pajaro Hills themselves, and vistas across Monterey Bay, the Pajaro Valley, the Salinas Valley and all the way to the Diablos east of San Jose. It was a glorious day, with the last clouds from Friday's storm dispersing slowly. Everything around us—trees, meadows, grasses, wildflowers, birds—seemed to be bursting with joy following last week's rains. (Wildflower list is below.) Traci documented our afternoon walking the Lupine Loop and the High Point Road (see the slideshow above).

The Land Trust has scheduled two more Star Creek Ranch Adventures for later in the spring—on Sunday, May 18 and Saturday, June 14th. (Follow the link to register.)

You can join the Land Trust here.
See more awesome photos of Star Creek Ranch by Paul Zaretsky here.

Wildflower List - 4/26/14
On the road
bleeding heart
red columbine
mustard

On Lupine Loop
bush lupine
Pacific hounds tongue
red-stemmed filaree
Pacific pea

High Point Road
red maid
common fiddleneck
California poppy
sticky monkeyflower
vetch
lupine (more magenta than purple)
bush poppy
checkerbloom
Indian warrior (owl clover?)

and reports of possible fiesta flower. Please add more to the comments if you saw others!

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A scenic property with over two miles along Pescadero Creek which provides critical spawning and rearing habitat for threatened steelhead within the Pajaro River Watershed. The Ranch includes 350 acres of redwood forest, oak woodlands and grasslands providing habitat for a variety of species. The property is part of a significant wildlife movement corridor between the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mt. Hamilton Range and the Gabilan Range.
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