By Andrew Dunne, Tamalpais High School, MMWD 2019 Water Scholar
With a trail to the wildness less than five minutes of walking away from my house, I always had easy access to the beautiful hills of the Tamalpais watershed lands. It's easy to take for granted how lush and diverse the plant life is, the easily accessible trails, and the gorgeous views. I know I certainly didn't appreciate it for a long time. However, after collaborating with various park services and comparing other landscapes to our own here in Marin, it's plain to see that Mount Tamalpais is a sanctuary worth the effort of protecting.
As a young kid in elementary school, the world was large and ready to be explored. Sap found on pine trees was a collectible commodity, spotting deer grazing by the roadside was thrilling, and the hiking trails that wound through the hills seemed to go on forever. There still exist vague memories of taking walks with family along the trails that surround Phoenix Lake: the sunny, exposed stretches with cicadas chirping from mysterious locations in the dried grass, a large section shaded by a smattering of different trees, leafy debris mottling the soil, and the emerald-colored water glinting in the white sun. I was entertained for hours with the wide outdoors, despite being easily bored at home.
In middle school, focus shifted over to mountain biking. Every Wednesday after school, a group of classmates and I biked along the trails of Mt. Tam. The fresh air and well-maintained trails were a blast to ride on, both up and down, and there were great vistas while resting. After a few years I graduated to Tamalpais High School, which hosts a mountain biking team. There were rides twice per week, and the reservoir lakes were frequent destinations. The ability to leave home on a bike and have so many options to ride, all of them so fun and natural, is something people celebrate and build communities around.
However nice the watershed area was, though, I never really understood how much effort went into managing it until the summer after freshman year in high school. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy was hosting a program called LINC Tam: an acronym for Linking Individuals to their Natural Community. In this program, 20 or so high schoolers from all around the Tamalpais area learn about the natural environment, do volunteer trail work, and much more. I joined the program, and for six weeks the other students, staff, and I experienced the Tam outdoors.
Nearly every day began with a convention in the MMWD work yard lot, and from there we traveled to many different trails and sites Integral to the upkeep of the land. There was work of all types to be done: trails needed new water bars installed to prevent degradation, invasive French Broom plants needed pulling everywhere, and other physical tasks. After the hard labor was done, we often learned about the intellectual management work that goes into maintaining Tamalpais. One day the LINC group toured a water purification plant, another we sorted through photos taken by wilderness cameras as a part of the Marin Wildlife Picture Index Project, and we also saw a day in the life of a Tam park ranger. Finally, in the last week of the program, there was a four day backpacking trip across Mt. Tamalpais in celebration of one hundred years of the National Park Service. Now knowing the lengths people go to protect the trails I have explored and made memories on, it was clear that I should pay for those good times so others can experience the same.
Over the past few years in high school, I have participated in volunteer work days across the Tamalpais watershed area. New stairs were installed along a trail by Deer Park Road, and invasive plants were pulled all across the region. The surprising thing, though, is that these "work days" didn't feel like work. The scenery was relaxing, the climate was comfortable, and all the other volunteers were enthusiastic and great to talk with. The wholesome, outdoorsy vibe found here in the North Bay just isn't found in many other places. During college tours, I traveled southward bound in California, from Marin all the way to San Diego. For the vast majority of the driving, and at many of the university towns, the landscape was comparatively bland: plains upon plains of dried grass, saturated with man-planted vegetation in the towns. In Pasadena, for example, the landscape was incredibly flat: the horizon was horizontal, save for the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance. It lacked the spirit that can only be provided by trickling streams, valleys, moss-cluttered trees, and permeating fog. By viewing the natural environments of other locations in person, I appreciate what we possess here in Marin so much more.
I'm a recent graduate of Tamalpais High School. I first became directly involved with MMWD through the GGNPC's LINC program. It was the summer after freshman year, and it was a great experience, introducing me to many different parks programs of varying levels. Since I've always recreationally enjoyed the Tam watershed areas, I enjoy helping to maintain them through volunteer work.