Watershed Walk with Fred

One of the Valley's finest naturalists, Fred McPherson leads a May 28 walk at Henry Cowell. Reserve your spot by emailing

by Carol Carson

May 27, 2016—His beloved river rolls down the side of the Santa Cruz Mountains where Indians used to hunt. Passes his home not too far away, travels through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, and empties its sweet water into the Pacific—a 30-mile-long journey.

Fred McPherson grew up as a “river child” on the Kern River in a town that was dammed out of existence. Today the San Lorenzo runs in his veins. “I show people how to ‘meet’ the river,” he says. “How to listen to it. Sit at different places and hear the different sounds. The river has many voices.”

Several years ago the County General Plan for the San Lorenzo River proposed a string of dams along the waterways, sewer lines along the river, and a freeway up to Boulder Creek.

“We would have been destined to become just like Berkeley,” Fred says, shaking his head. By the time the highway got to Felton Faire, Fred got going. Along with the Valley Women’s Club and other environmentalists, they were able to save the watershed from development.

For 40 years the environment has been worth fighting for to Fred. “Because it’s still wild here and there’s such a diverse ecosystem. You know, it’s a biological hotspot.”

According to Conservation International, a hotspot is “the richest and most threatened reservoir of plant life on earth.”

Covering much of the state and all the coast lands, the California Floristic Province, as our hotspot is named, is home to the most diverse temperate coniferous tree community in the world and includes our coastal redwoods. More than 61% of our plants are found nowhere else.

However, in the last 150 years we have lost 85% of our trees to logging and development.

Fred wears many hats—biologist, educator, naturalist, and mentor to many area environmentalists. These days you’ll find him out trekking with his video camera in hand, producing many popular videos about the flora and fauna of our Floristic Province with his wife Roberta.

On Saturday, May 28, at 10:30, join us at the Nature Center to see “The Natural Wonders of Henry Cowell State Park.” 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.

After the program we will walk to some of his favorite sites to shoot, like Merganser Point, and compare how the riparian and forest ecosystems have changed since he released his video a few years ago and why.

Where have all the ground squirrels gone? Why are there fewer and hungrier coyotes? Why did the meadow change to non-native, invasive plants? These are some of the mysteries of nature at the Park.

Sponsored by an environmental education grant from the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, the talk-and-walk is free and lasts until 12:30pm. Parking is $10, or $9 for seniors, or you can park outside the Park entrance on Hwy 9 south of Felton for free.

To make reservations, contact me at Space is limited.

Carol Carson is a nature writer and a California State Certified Naturalist.