June 13, 2011
Today was our first day of work and we were super anxious and curious about what was ahead of us. We got up early and were ready by 7:30am as we waited nervously for Charlie de la Rosa, the coordinator for the Catalina Island Conservancy’s “Stop the Spread” program, which focuses on removing invasive species. He was really friendly, easy-going, and just wonderful to talk to. Charlie answered all our questions and concerns and then we were off to start the day. First we stopped by the site of our potential trial, near USC Wrigley, and hiked up the game trail.
The hike was interesting and fun. There was a lot of vegetation, which we have yet to identify. The trail was a bit rough since it wasn’t cleared, so we had to blaze through bushes and cactus. Charlie talked about the trail and shared what he envisioned. He pointed out the fence line and explained the importance of recognizing markers, such as the ridge line and basin line, that will give perspective and help guide other hikers. Basically these are features that people can easily follow with their eyes. As we wound through the game trail, Charlie told us to look around and study the different view sheds that each turn or angle would offer. One moment we saw the calm blue waters of Catalina island, on the next turn we discovered a cliff edge teeming with different plant life. We hiked up to this beautiful grove of trees, called Toyon a native plant to California. We had to duck our heads to get into this lovely area, it felt like our little secret cave. It was such a wonderful find, standing underneath the trees, looking up and through the branches. All us immediately agreed that this is definitely a spot other hikers must see.
Afterwards, Charlie drove us to Middle Ranch, about a 30 minute drive, where the Conservancy’s main office of operation is located. We met Carlos de la Rosa, the Chief of Conservation & Education. Carlos gave us a presentation about the island history, biogeography, and explained some of the contentions between the Conservancy and Catalina locals, mostly surrounding the topic of eradicating the goats and pigs of the island, as well as feral cats.
Charlie and Tony Summers, another Stop the Spread member, took us on a hike to Ben Weston beach after Carlos’ lecture. It was another delightful hike. There were several points where we had to jump over creeks and rocks to pass along the trail. One of us noted how the rocks seemed to be lined up almost in a straight line to connect with the rest of the trail. Charlie explained it was intentional and part of engineering a trail; creating rock bridges, called ‘rock work’. It can be an intensive part of construction, but will help create a long lasting path. While we walked along the trail, Charlie identified various plants such as the sea rocket, poison oak, mule fat, and lemonade berry. We had the shocking pleasure of trying the lemonade berry, which tasted very much like shocktarts! We also heard this persistent and annoying sound. It turned out to be a squirrel’s call, trying to warn us we are in its territory.
Halfway through our hike, we encountered one of Catalina’s famous bison wandering in front of us. This was the first time I’ve ever been so close to one. He was massive and hairy. Charlie clapped his hand and the bison began to walk off. A few feet over we found the bison’s wallow, a space where bison lay down and roll in the dirt, creating a crater like structure in the soil. It is easily identifiable by the squashed grass and circular outline of the bison’s body. At the end of trail, we were rewarded with this spectacular scene of the beach. It was super serene and calm and no one was there. It was simply OURS! We sat on the bench with the wind blowing our hair. We discussed about future plans of the trail, such as making signs and ways to raise money for them. All us were excited, we were brain storming and throwing ideas out there: such as putting a gumball machine of “seed bombs” that distributes native seeds so hikers can replant them all over the island, getting donaters to fund our trails, etc. Then we went back and settled into our new lodging, called the bunker house, where we met the other Conservancy and some ACE (American Conservation Experience) crew. It was a very busy day and I can’t wait to see how the rest of our summer unfolds.