Mushroom fairy rings, tiny salamanders and Native American smudging rituals are among the phenomena that participants in the winter 2013 Forest Walks may encounter.
As part of the “Save Upper Campus” campaign, the purpose of the walks is to expose students and non-students to parts of the forest currently threatened by the Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).
“The walks are supposed to inspire some stewardship of the land,” said Benny Jacobs-Shwartz, a fifth-year environmental studies and biology major who will be guiding a walk on Jan. 24.
Each walk has a specific theme. The theme of the first walk was more general, but future walks will have specific foci. Jacobs-Swartz will lead the “Birding Walk.”
“I am a bird enthusiast,” Jacobs-Swartz said. “I was hoping to see some of the more elusive and beautiful birds that dwell in Upper Campus.”
Other walks will have themes such as “The Secret Life of Mushrooms,” “Hydrology,” “Stargazing 101” and “Wildcrafting Wild Crafts,” among others.
The Forest Walkers, a group of students and non-students, organize these walks. The group strives to mitigate what they say is the university’s detrimental effect on the forest ecosystem.
The first walk, held Jan. 19, ventured at a leisurely pace to some of the sites that will potentially be affected by LRDP. These included the site of a future bridge over Cave Creek, future sites for employee housing and associated infrastructure that would replace 11.7 of the 48 acres of Northern Maritime Chaparral on campus, the future academic core site in the mixed evergreen forest and the site of the future Social Sciences III building south of Crown Meadow.
“This is not a university with a forest around it, it’s a forest with a university built on top of it,” said Robin Moore, a member of Forest Walkers who helped organize the walks.
Along the way, Moore, one of the walk’s guides, pointed out a range of plant species that would be affected by LRDP. These include the rattlesnake plantain, the golden Chinquapin tree, the madrone tree, the knobcone pine tree, the yerba santa and others. Among the rarest is the Santa Cruz manzanita — a chaparral shrub on the CEQA special species list which grows only in the Santa Cruz Mountains. If LRDP is successful, up to 50 percent of the Santa Cruz manzanita population on campus will be decimated.
The Forest Walkers aim to foster a relationship between the walkers and Upper Campus.
“I’ve always loved wild places — that’s my sanctuary and that’s the place I’ve felt the most inspired and at home,” Moore said. “When I first came to Santa Cruz and discovered the forest, it totally changed my life — and that’s something I want to be available to other people.”
Building these relationships may help the “Save Upper Campus” campaign.
“[The walks are about] connecting people with the forest so that there’s more people who understand what’s at stake,” Moore said. “When people are connected with that, they’ll be more likely to be involved in the process. They’ll be more likely to get involved with this effort and protect the forest.”
Although Natalie Dybens, a third-year psychology major from Kresge, already knew about LRDP, participating in the walk motivated her to be more active in the Forest Walkers’ cause.
“[The experience of the walk] makes me want to get more involved in trying to work against the construction here in the forest,” Dybens said.
Aside from political activism, the walks give participants a chance to take a break from the fast pace of university life and engage with the natural world on campus.
“Nature is accessible,” Jacobs-Swartz said. “And people just need to slow down and let their senses experience what they are meant to.”
Upcoming walks begin at the top of North Remote parking unless otherwise noted — Jan. 24: Birding Walk; Jan. 26: Lifting the Veil, The Secret Life of Mushrooms; Feb. 2: Hydrology of UCSC Campus; Feb. 7: Art in Nature; Feb. 8: Stargazing 101; Feb. 10: Reproduction in the Forest, Seed, Spores, Sex and more!; Feb. 16: Food, Ourselves, and the Forest (at Kresge Food Co-Op); Feb. 17: Kids Forest Walk; March 1: Medicinal Plant Walk; March 6: Wildcrafting Wild Crafts.