Arana Gulch (cont'd)

For more than a decade, Arana Gulch has been the site of a pitched battle over land use, with the city intent on paving a path through the preserve as a bicycle commuter route connecting the Eastside neighborhood of Santa Cruz with Live Oak (Broadway to Brommer Street). The plan is widely supported by bicyclists eager for a safer, scenic alternative to Soquel Avenue.

But this habitat is considered among the most diverse and threatened in the temperate world. Native plant protectors and others in the conservation community have sought to protect Arana’s remnant of prairie in the name of the Santa Cruz tarplant, an endangered, native bloom of the sunflower family, wiped out in the Bay Area and under steady threat of losing its toehold in Santa Cruz.

The controversial bike path finally met the approval of the California Coastal Commission in late 2011, and construction was set to begin in 2012. But as yet, there’s no sign of cement.

Until recently Arana Gulch was a dairy farm. After the farm sold in the 1980s, the local tarplant population dropped rapidly. Scientists cited a lack of disturbance as reason for the plant’s decline and have suggested a return to seasonal grazing—so don’t be surprised if you see a cow or goat munching away on invasive vegetation someday soon. The city will also begin educational tours through the preserve, led by the nearby Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.

Wildlife keep a low profile but coyote and raccoon can be spotted here from time to time. The dense, leafy margins of the park also house a variety of bat species, veiled in the thick underbrush of blackberry vines, English ivy and French broom.

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