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Theme: Giving Back to the Parks

The Edgewood Preserve Docent Training Program

Docents: Sharing Nature with the Bay Area Community

Meeting the Land at Fairfield Osborne Preserve

Other Features

A Brief History of Bay Area Parks and Open Space
   Pt. 2: From the 1960s through the Present Day

Names on the Land
   Pt. 2, Santa Cruz County

Education Stations "Smooth" the Trails

"Dish" Argument Continues on New Terrain

Sudden Oak Death: New Victims


Letter from the Trail Center

Park News

Trail Center Notes

Upcoming Events

The Trail Companion

Winter 2001

Theme: Giving Back to the Parks

Meeting the Land at Fairfield Osborne Preserve

By Geoffrey Skinner.

Black and Oregon oaks covering a rolling ridge…a perennial stream filled with boulders and frogs that only flows to the valley below during winter and spring…a laboratory for college students and a place of discovery for schoolchildren. Tucked in the ridges of Sonoma Mountain, above the southern Santa Rosa Valley in Sonoma County, lies Fairfield Osborn Preserve, originally a project of the Nature Conservancy, but now owned and managed by Sonoma State University. I recently met a docent at the Fairfield Osborn and had the opportunity to learn about the Preserve and its programs.
      The 200-acre Preserve is named for pioneer ecologist Fairfield Osborn and was established by the Roth family in 1972. In 1992, the Nature Conservancy transferred ownership to the University, which uses the land as educational facility while continuing to protect the natural features - oaks, wildflowers, giant Pacific salamanders, yellow-legged frogs, native grasslands, and more. Like Stanford's Jasper Ridge, public access is limited, but through a combination of docent-led tours, workshops and school visits, over 4,500 visitors enjoy the treasures of the Preserve each year.
      Morgan Snyder, an Environmental Studies student at Sonoma State, led us through the lower half of the Preserve on a foggy fall morning. A course on environmental opportunities introduced Snyder to the Preserve during his sophomore year. He signed up for the Docent Training Program to learn the basics of environmental education and local natural history. During the training, the trainees also get to play games - he described a scavenger hunt to find special places and features - which can later be used with school groups. They take turns leading, teaching, exploring and learning. In return for the training, he signed up to lead tours one weekday (for school visits) and some weekends (public visits) during fall and spring. Snyder said that many of the docents are SSU students, but many come from the community. One of the rewards is free attendance to any of the weekend field workshops; one recent workshop focused on mushrooms and Snyder showed us a number of interesting fungi, including a big oak log covered with large (and edible) oyster mushrooms.
      Docents are encouraged to take part in some the scientific studies on the Preserve. As we walked the trails, Snyder pointed out ribbons tied around coastal live oaks. He and thirty others systematically walked the entire Preserve to find signs of Oak Mortality Syndrome. Although no tanoaks grow in the Preserve, signs of the syndrome were seen in the coastal live oaks. A closer look at one very large oak revealed telltale oozing sap, ambrosia beetle frass and hypoxilon fungus - the classic omens. Researchers at UC Davis are studying samples from the infected trees and are plan to use the outbreak as an opportunity to watch the progress from the earliest stages.
      Docents aren't the only ones who make Fairfield Osborn run. A habitat restoration works to eradicate some of the non-native species established in the Preserve, such as yellow star thistle, Harding grass, Himalaya berry and bullfrogs. With over six miles of trail, a committed group of trail volunteers work hard to maintain access for the thousands of visitors. Steep slopes, heavy clay soils and pigs make the job challenging.
      After two and half hours of exploring, we returned to the headquarters and peered inside, where a stuffed badger and coyote presided over the empty classroom. Snyder said that becoming part of the docent program was one of the most satisfying things he had done while at Sonoma State. He recommended the program or similar programs elsewhere for anyone who wanted to become more involved with the land around them.
      Fairfield Osborn Preserve is open for Saturday tours during fall and spring, and by special arrangement. Call the Preserve office at (707) 795-5069 for times and more information. You may also visit the Preserve is on the web.