Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"VERN"

             The drivers speeding by on the state highway barely notice her. She is just another small pond under the tall pines in the forest. Just another body of water, one of several in the area. But Vern is a special body, unlike Boggs Lake or Forest Lake, Vern will disappear in the summer and transform herself into a flowering meadow.
If she could, Vern would tell you of the history she witnessed, going way back to the volcanism that laid ash on her bed of clay. In more recent times, she suffered baseball games, bicycling  and horseback riding from the folks at a resort on her southern flank.

The resort was completely destroyed by fire in 1967, with part of a stone wall remaining.

She will tell you of her enemies and of her rescue. Her owner began excavation in 1984 to force her into a recreational lake, but he somehow skipped getting the required permits.

About this same time, friends she had not yet met came and introduced themselves. They were seekers of rare plants, so she showed them her jewelry box.

Among her treasures they found a plant that grows nowhere else and named it the
 Loch Lomond Button Celery.  Discovered in 1941 and collected by botanist  Beecher Crampton  in 1954, two more occurrences north of San Francisco were later found. (This plant is so rare, no pictures online allow for copy. A written request for use must be sent to California Native Plant Society or the photographer.)

Loch Lomond Resort, late 1940s
By 1993 Vern had a new owner, the state of California and a new unladylike name, the Loch Lomond Vernal Pool Ecological Reserve or LLVPER. Yuck.
"Honey, me and the dog are gonna go visit Vern."

"Okay, be careful. Say hello for me"

The state agency Dept. of Fish And Game, built a post-and-rail fence with a dirt path skirting the perimeter. Next year the agency drafted a management plan, a fun read if you like  fantasy, for the interpretive signs never appeared,  neither the "repair fence as necessary" (page 16).  She was ignored and neglected..
We visited her almost daily, although in the rainy season, parts of the path were flooded, for Vern did not care about the fence.

By 1995, the fence was crumbling, whole sections had fallen over, other sections missing entirely.

    The Damage
On this warm afternoon in April of 2008, Vern was drying out and the path was muddy and full of recent and deep tire tracks. Not only was the path destroyed, the tracks went beyond a missing section of fence and into the meadow.  Vern's enemies had returned, riding ATVs. In the surrounding woods live scalawags and parolees of every type. The Chamber of Commerce will not tell you this though. They will tell you what a nice resort Loch Lomond is, all the amenities it offers, including "occasional snowfalls" at Christmastime.

"Honey we're back .. and I need your help."

   The Rescue

Knowing how much Greg hated off-road vehicles, I tried to cushion the blow he was about to receive. Rage was not going to help me in my rescue effort.

" I need your photography skills and your camera at the vernal pond. There is real bad damage and I wanna document it."

"You can take the camera, what's the big deal?" he asks.

"No, you don't understand, it's bad hon."

Finally, he agrees and again I caution that the damage is extensive, "steel yourself for this." I add.

The ruts where the path used to be are a good eight inches deep, serious ankle breakers. The mud was beginning to dry and turn to concrete already.  The damage went from the fence to the treeline.

Several photographs (seen here) were scanned onto the bottom of the letter I carefully composed,  then mailed copies to all state and federal representatives of the Cobb Mountain area. I included a 'cc' list of each name receiving the letter. Then waited.

   The Response
Two replies came back, one from U. S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and the second from Mike Thompson, California State Senator at that time. Senator Feinstein's letter stated, " ...  the land in question belongs to the State of California and is not a Federal issue."  The second reply from  Mike Thompson had, "we will look into this, my assistant will be calling you soon." Next day the call came and very soon, no trespassing signs appeared along the undamaged portion of the path. Sheriff's deputies were seen talking to people in pickup trucks, the truck bed holding an ATV.  Then came the surveyors, placing brightly colored sticks in the middle of the pond.

I put the pressure on. I emailed the state agency responsible for the property, California Dept. of Fish and Game, only to find out they were "unaware this reserve exists." I promptly sent them the 1994 Draft Management Plan they themselves had published.

Next on my email list was the strong environmental  group, the California Native Plant Society. This organization publishes a list annually of endangered and threatened native plants used as the reference by other agencies.

Then came the Great Recession. Vern's tale may not have a happy ending for by the time we moved away in 2012, nothing more had been done.  The survey markers were long gone. The gouges were tramped  down to a semblance of a path by feet and horse hooves willing to risk it.

At least the no trespassing signs were still visible, having been nailed to living oak and pine trees.

NOTES
Beecher Crampton (1918-2002) is the author of Grasses of California, published in 1974.

Other Federal and State-listed endangered plants in the reserve are :
 *Many-flowered navarretia
 *Few-flowered navarretia
Wikipedia's article on the LLVPER here.
Few-flowered Naverretia c michael hogan  License
"Vern" as seen from State Highway 175.
More information on vernal ponds here






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