There is a forgotten gem in the heart of Montclair, on a beautiful hill up behind the recreation center and tot lot. Most long-time residents of the area probably know about it–it is, after all, a prominent and very unusual ridge right in the fault zone, and within bow shot of half the village — but they don’t go there. Not any more. It is weedy and empty and those qualities deter people, such that they become weedier and emptier… But that can change, just as it is changing throughout the Sausal Creek watershed.
The above view is looking north along the ridgetop. The land behind those cyclone fences is in public ownership as well — to the right is the steep, wild, heavily overgrown and forgotten slope behind the large elementary school on Mountain Blvd., and to the left is the back slope of the historic and similarly forgotten old firehouse on Moraga Way. That fence on the left, in fact, is now completely superfluous, and probably dates back many years to when the fire station was active. This entire ridge, in other words, is public, except for some houses at the far north end. Public and eminently capable of restoration.
This next view is looking southward along the ridgeline. The performance stage, tot lot, and duck pond lie beyond the dance floor and the curve of the hill.
And here is a panning view of the sunny southern exposure right above the tot lot, which lies just upslope of a large, cattail- and willow-supporting pond that is successful nesting habitat for coots, mallards, geese, black phoebes, and several other wild bird species. Photos are in HQ, so click on full screen icon in lower right to get the full picture. For annotations click “show info” in the upper right.
As is evident in these photos, there is plenty of French broom, ivy, invasive grass, and cotoneaster to clear, enough to keep local volunteers happily engaged for some time. And plenty of ground for replanting with natives! A perfect revegetation demonstration site for the legions of little ones who play in nearby portions of this park, for their parents, for students at the neighboring school, and for the community at large. A perfect outdoor classroom right in the heart of Montclair.
A classroom full of history as well — this chunk of granite is not from anywhere around here, and in all likelihood came in on the electric train which ran along the flank of this ridge from here to Chico. And the beautiful stonework here, throughout acres and acres of park, is a gift to all of us from the field crews of the Works Projects Administration of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Probably the stage and dance floor gazebo, too…
Here are more views of the southern slope, this time on the shadier side a little to the west. It shall probably brighten up here too over time, as the large non-native trees continue to fall. Just imagine the wood ferns, soaproot, irises, and Oakland star tulips that could so easily be growing in this place.
And here, on the bright sunny side, imagine tall purple needlegrasses, yellow mariposa lilies, golden california poppies, and sky-blue lupines waving in the breeze.
It feels important, for a community-based restoration project to catch the imagination and succeed, that it not be too easy. In fact the fiercest, most amazing work to remove invasive thickets and replant natives often seems to happen in the face of long, daunting odds, in places where there are early and frequent successes, ground replanted and held, but also a “back forty” full of dragons and wild beasts to keep it challenging and fun. Well, there is plenty of that here! And not just up on the ridge…
Behind that fence, and running for a hundred meters north towards Kinglet Hill, is a veritable inferno of broom, thistle, Himalayan blackberry, hemlock, mustard, you name it. On a lovely, warm, western exposure above a beautiful pond. A good place for bunchgrasses, manzanitas, buckwheat, blue-eyed grass, golden monkeyflower, california sage, Ithuriel’s spear.
In other words, there is plenty of room for people to have a rollicking good time restoring this park, learning about native plants, learning about history. And as fine a place as one could ask for for chatting over watermelon and granola bars at breaktime. : – )
To be continued… :-)