On the Westside of Santa Cruz is a pond and trails perfect for fishing, floating, birding, picnicking, dog-walking and just hanging out.
Story and photos by Diane Terry
There must be something special in the soil on Delaware Avenue, the junction of local treasures such as Natural Bridges State Beach, Seymour Center, the Homeless Garden Project and, unbeknownst to many, a hidden gem known as Antonelli Pond. Encircled by a short 0.75 miles of trail, this manmade pond fed by Moore Creek is a haven for humans and dogs alike. Songs of birds intermingle with the sound of laughter as you walk the path, passing fishers on the dock, dogs so happy their tails might wiggle off and paddlers in the pond.
The loop trail (actually a horseshoe) intersects with the road, so there are really two places you can start. However, the west entrance, closest to the end of Delaware, officially welcomes visitors with an educational sign at the trailhead. It’s clear that maintaining this pond has been no walk in the park (heh), with the sign boasting both progress made and progress anticipated by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, which owns the 6-acre pond and the 13 acres surrounding it. Don’t miss the cute yet informative pictures drawn by kids on the back of the board, which give a quick background on the history of the pond.
The dirt trail weaves in and out of the riparian habitat and the neighboring grassland, staying relatively flat. Little paths veer off the main loop into the dense vegetation along the shore. Some of them have become dead ends over time, but some reward you with a cozy, secluded view of the pond or a picnic table. The only incline begins once you hit the railroad tracks, which cuts through the northern face of the pond. Cross on the tracks to the eastern side of the loop if you dare—if the idea of this gives you visions of the railroad bridge scene in Stand By Me, you always have the option of retracing your steps to Delaware, walking a short distance along the road to the east entrance and beginning there.
Whereas the west side of the loop is ideal for chillaxing — a dock for fishing (accessible via a short path near the the trailhead), picnic tables and grills for lunch — the east side is ideal for getting a close look at Antonelli's flora and fauna. The trail branches off in multiple places, bringing you right to the muddy bank of the pond. Once the commotion created by your entrance subsides, signs of life will begin to pop up right in front of you. Double-crested cormorants and red-winged blackbirds soar overhead while grebes and ducks float by. Tiny fish—think juvenile largemouth bass—eventually abandon cover under the pink flowering knotweed, emerging into sunlit water. You might even see the endangered California red-legged frog, along with pacific chorus frogs and red-eared slider turtles.
THE BACK STORY A silent battle has been fought for many moons at Antonelli Pond, dug more than a century ago and site of a dairy operation, a sawmill, a moonshine distillery and a hotel rowboat concession. Ever since the Antonelli family donated a 6-acre area to the Land Trust in 1982, and after the 1989 addition of several more acres of wetlands, the pond has seen constant transformation, from a squatting ground for homeless to a neighborhood recreation destination. Community members have pitched in to remove non-native species and create a welcoming public space, as well as a cleaner Moore Creek, which forms the wetland of neighboring Natural Bridges. One organization in particular, Save The Frogs, focuses on creating a viable habitat for the endangered red-legged frog — which you may recognize as California’s new state amphibian!
THIS SPOT IS PERFECT FOR your adventurous water-loving dog, birding, picnics, small watercraft such as SUPs and kayaks, enjoying the views on a short walk and fishing for largemouth bass. One fishing site claims there are brown trout, crappie, bluegill, smallmouth bass and bullhead for the taking as well.
NOT SO PERFECT FOR getting your cardio (unless you sprint the loop numerous times). Leave the tents and booze at home, because camping and alcohol are prohibited. And there are no facilities, so bring water and stop at the loo before you get here.
DON’T FORGET to bring layers, since it can be breezy here. A camera or binoculars will enhance your experience. If you’re fishing, you’ll need a fishing license (unless you're 16 or younger); you can get one at Outdoor World, 136 River St., Santa Cruz (831.423.9555).
MOTHER EARTH WOULD TELL YOU to not leave behind a mess — the local critters thank you.
IF YOU'RE LUCKY YOU’LL see California’s newest celebrity, the red-legged frog. Or you may catch sight of a black-crowned night heron or a rare black-throated sparrow, vermillion flycatcher or Baltimore oriole.
DIRECTIONS From the intersection of Highway One/Mission Street and Swift Street on the Santa Cruz Westside, head south on Swift for several blocks, then turn right onto Delaware Avenue. After about a half mile you’ll see Natural Bridges State Beach on your left; Antonelli Pond will be on your right. Park anywhere on the street. If you come to Shaffer Street, you’ve gone too far.
Contact the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County at 831.429.6116 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.