by China Granger, Redwood High School, MMWD 2018 Water Scholar
Each year, millions of people visit one of San Francisco's most famous monuments: the Golden Gate Bridge. It's easy to assume nowhere could compare to the bridge's southern side, where the vibrant, picturesque hills of San Francisco beckon bucket-listers and international foodies alike.
But, of course, connected to the northern end of the bridge is the simple silhouette that has become one of the most ubiquitous symbols of Marin county: Mount Tamalpais.
This summer through the OneTam program, LINC, I spent many hours helping with various restoration projects on Mt. Tam. I truly felt like I was contributing to the mountain and to a certain extent, I was. But, over time, I have come to realize that Mt. Tam and its dedicated stewards have given me more than I could ever give back. The watershed occupies a special place in my heart because of its natural beauty and all the practical, educational and recreational benefits that come with that.
Mt. Tam is a temple for exploration and for playfulness. Through adventures with friends and family, I have become familiar with the mountain and its awe-inspiring beauty. Warm meadows and shady, acorn-littered forests are criss-crossed by countless hiking, biking and equestrian trails. The mountain has raised generations of tree climbers and rock climbers and lent its slopes to the pioneers of mountain biking. They beckon well-planned and spontaneous sunset adventures alike. I have camped at Camp Alice Eastwood and Wildcat with friends, as well zipped up the mountain to catch the setting sun. I have hiked from Stinson Beach to Pantoll and from Pantoll to West Peak. And I'm working on covering every trial in between. Each and every time I set out on Mt. Tam, I am amazed by its beauty and complexity. It feels, simultaneously, like going into the wilderness and going home.
Because of Mt. Tam, I have grown up surrounded by a thousands of acres of magnificent natural preserves. The mountain has given me a place to play and to explore with people I care about. It has acted as the ultimate classroom, offering insights into the interconnected lives of its plants and animals everytime I care to pause and listen and observe. And, of course, Mt. Tam is also a watershed. Through sustainable land management, Mt. Tam captures and filters enough rainwater to support both a vibrant natural ecosystem as well as the showers, dishwashers and irrigation systems afforded to thousands of Marin residents, myself included. Ultimately, it has been the influence of Mt. Tam that has inspired my decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and given me hope for the future of conservation.
With a 20,000 acre watershed preserved in the center of Marin, Mt. Tam is truly the heart of the county. Despite a frenzy of construction as property values rise, parks across Marin have remained steadfastly preserved. Marin is home to expansive sandy beaches and hidden reefs. Rare low tides expose teeming marine ecosystems of purple sea stars, starburst anemones, hermit crabs and peculiar opalescent sea slugs. On moonless nights, it's possible to see bioluminescent dinoflagellates tum the gentle currents of Tomales Bay into a kaleidoscope of shimmering blue lights. Communities of towering coastal redwoods lie a few miles inland. Some are so old they might have been middle-aged by the time a misguided Italian explorer set anchor in the present-day Bahamas, thinking he'd reached India.
The protections on MMWD land are essential to the surrounding ecosystems and support 1,300 species of plants and animals. Rainwater funnels down the mountain to replenish seven water district reservoirs. On its way, the water feeds creek beds of swordferns and scorpion grasses, horsetails and huckleberries. Their roots in turn, cling to nutrient-rich top soil and prevent erosion. Water flows into Lagunitas Creek, which supports endangered species like coho salmon and steelhead trout. Like anywhere else in the world, the ecosystems across Marin are interconnected. Not only is Mt. Tam a beautiful place in itself, but it is an essential and defining part of all the ecosystems around it. In a sense, I can thank the sustainable management of Mt. Tam for the vibrant ecosystems I see all across Marin, from Pt. Reyes to Baltimore Canyon.
Ever since I was young, my love of animals was evident. When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and failed to produce an enthusiastic answer, many adults would declare, "You should be a veterinarian!" I disagreed. As a child, I thought that since I didn't want to be a veterinarian I would just have to be a firefighter or lawyer or some other poster-worthy professional. This summer, though, I learned about the expansive array of careers for people who care about the environment. It is largely because of my experience working with OneTam, Marin County Parks and MMWD employees that I have decided to study Environmental Science in college.
Through LINC, I learned about sustainable land management practices. In our group of LINC students, we monitored insect populations by collecting and pinning bees. We sorted and catalogued images for the Wildlife Picture Index. We collected data for a six-year study about fuel loads in chaparral forests and visited West Peak to see the decades-long restoration project in progress. (Last October, I even spoke on a community meeting panel about the next steps of the restoration.) Throughout that experience, I met passionate and intelligent land management professionals who had struck a rare balance between doing something they were both passionate about and could make a living doing. Seeing the environmental work being done on Mt. Tam has inspired me to pursue a career in conservation. I realized that as a career, I could manage ecosystems for current and future generations. I could, in perhaps a small way, get paid for saving the world.
Also during LINC, we learned that the conservation efforts on Mt. Tam are not only to preserve its habitat for the recreational enjoyment of the community, but also to ensure the integrity and sustainability of Marin's water supply. I learned that MMWD is a steward of Mt. Tam, guided by the philosophy that a healthy ecosystem means a clean supply of water for more than 190,000 MMWD customers. Along with the water I drink everyday, the water with which I take showers, wash clothes and dishes and water my windowsill of succulents comes from water collected on Mt. Tam. Recently, in my Environmental Science class, we all brought in a household water bill to analyzed how much water our families use and how much it costs. I learned that $2.00 could buy me an average liter of bottled water, or, with that same $2.00 I could pay for around 300 gallons of tap water from MMWD. I was astounded by this calculation and profoundly grateful for natural services provided by Mt. Tam and the people who care for it. Since this summer, I have continued to realize just how much I owe the mountain.
While I worked with the LINC team at current restoration sites like Muir Beach and Bothin Marsh, I also learned about the historical legacy of conservation on the mountain. We visited West Peak to learn about the grassroots movement to clean up the trash and debris left by the military. We visited the Marin Headlands and discussed the group of concerned, tenacious citizens in the 1960s who mounted a campaign against the proposed $250 million Marincello development. We learned about William Kent. Various landmarks throughout Marin bear his name, but few people talk about his early contributions in preserving the county. In the early 1900s, as lumber companies eyed the Bay Area's towering Redwoods, Kent bought a canyon of ancient trees. He donated his $45,000 purchase (the equivalent of $1 million today) to the federal government and petitioned for it to be named after conservationist John Muir. Kent went on to successfully run for Congress and used his position to set aside thousands of acres of Mt. Tam to help found the watershed of Marin.
The legacy of the mountain's conservation has given me something that, to be honest, is greatly needed in the current political climate: hope. Depressed by our president's flippant treatment of national parks, it has been uplifting to learn about the actions of people like Kent. Experiencing the products of his conservation efforts over a century later, I am reminded that individuals matter. I'm inspired to study Environmental Science and assured that, although difficult, it is possible to make a lasting difference. If summer on Mt. Tam can inspire others to care for the environment as it has inspired me, I feel like there is a bright future for our nation’s parks.
Mt. Tam, for me, is a symbol of hope. Each morning, from under a cloak of fog, the rising sun peeks from behind the horizon. Even while a cold, salty ocean breeze drifts up the mountain, the light of dawn seems to set ablaze the mountain's rolling hills of amber grass. As it has for thousands of years, each new morning arrives in a spectacular fashion, awakening the mountain with the promise of another magnificent day and, to all who are there to watch, inspiring a message of hope for tomorrow.
Hi, I'm China Granger! I'm a senior at Redwood High School and a current Editor in Chief of the school newspaper. Last summer, through the LINC OneTam internship, which partnered with MMWD, I worked with many of the amazing stewards of Mt. Tam and learned an incredible amount about local ecology. LINC largely influenced my next step in life, which will be to study Environmental Science at UC Davis.