Watershed Walk: Bonny Doon Ecological Preserve

Join the Watershed Walkers on May 7 for a look at Bonny Doon Ecological Preserve eight years after the Martin Fire and after a long-anticipated rainy season.

“Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be…”

— William Wordsworth, poet and nature lover

May 4, 2016—In the summer of 2008, the Martin Fire in Bonny Doon consumed 520 acres in five days. I remember driving through the area one evening and seeing the “Thank you, Cal Fire” signs that grateful neighbors had put up — even a red helicopter hovering over a lagoon across Highway 1 from the ocean, filling up bags of water to fight the fire.

A couple of springs later, I took a group of nature walkers to the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve to check it out with caretaker and botanist Valerie Haley. We marveled at the profusion of colorful blooms along the sand path and “fire followers” — plants, encouraged by fire, that appear where they have never been seen before.

Along the chaparral trail, burned-out manzanitas had been captured in their mahogany-red skeletons. One had a molten metal chair under it that looked like a Dali painting. Join us on our next free walk on May 7 at the Reserve and solve the myth of whether manzanitas are fire resistant or not.

This year we’ll trek back to see how the blooms look after four years of drought and our wet winter. We don’t expect to see the “Super-Bloom” of California deserts, but that is the joy of nature—always surprising.

In addition to “the glory in the flower,” Hailey will lead us along trails through Ponderosa pine and sandstone outcroppings, also known as “moon rocks” in the mountains, which sit like giant Buddha statues on the geoscape. We may even see a waterfall- hidden from the casual explorer.

“We did a shaded fuel break the year before the fire,” said Hailey, who is a revegetation specialist at Native Vegetation Network. “We had reduced tree limbs and vegetation along Martin Road, and that bought the firefighters 15 to 20 minutes more time to fight the fire.”

A week after the fire, Hailey, who lives a mile away and has worked at the Reserve since 1993, saw the aftermath of the burn.

“It was a dramatic change, but I did not get upset. I did not cry. I did not freak out,” she said. “I viewed it as a natural cycle, as part of nature. I was kind of bummed, but not devastated.”

—Carol Carson

THE ECOLOGICAL WALK WITH VAL HAILEY is Saturday, May 7, 10:30am-12:30pm. Meet at the Reserve on Martin Road in Bonny Doon. The walk is free through an environmental grant from the San Lorenzo Valley Water District and open to all ages, but space is limited. To register, please contact Carol Carson, Grant Director and Certified California State Naturalist, at

Directions from Santa Cruz

Directions from Felton

May 28, 10:30am-12:30pm—Fred McPherson, biologist, educator, naturalist, and videographer will show his video, “The Natural Wonders of Henry Cowell State Park” in the Nature Center. Due to his patience and craft, Fred has recorded such inhabitants of the Park as great blue herons, fish, deer, squirrels, and native plants through the seasons. We will walk to some of his favorite sites to shoot, like Merganser Point, and check out how the riparian and forest ecosystems have changed since the rains.

June 11, 10:30am-12:30pm—Bryan Largay, Conservation Director for the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, has probably hiked into Fall Creek over 500 times—after all, it’s in his backyard in Felton. He has a special relationship with this major tributary of the San Lorenzo River, and he’ll discuss such topics as landslides, plants, stream improvements, soil erosion, and wildlife with our watershed walkers. Our goal is to you about the history of Fall Creek, one of the hidden gems in the Santa Cruz Mountains, with information that would that would be unavailable to the casual stroller. Bryan will make Fall Creek come alive! He holds a Master of Hydrologic Sciences degree from U.C. Davis and a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University.