Right in my Backyard

Buhbados uh cum from (I’m from Barbados) and I love to travel! I also love to hike and camp and have done so for most of my life. Actually from when I was about 11 years old and joined the Girl Guide Association. I’ve been hiking and camping ever since, though I’ve had some lean years when I didn’t do much of either. It’s not surprising that I fell in love with these activities because as a child I was fortunate to grow up with expansive open fields (‘pastures’ in Bajan parlance) and plenty of trees just steps from my home. I also had a lot of freedom to play in these areas for hours on end during the weekends and vacations. As a child I had no idea how lucky I was to have these natural resources so close to home, literally right in my backyard. As an adult I have learned that many people were not so blessed and so I try not to take these resources for granted. I know that these pastures in my backyard and the many hours I spent enjoying them are partly the cause of my interest in conservation and protected areas. They certainly engendered my love of the outdoors.

Fast forward 30 something years to 2019, the year that my friend Jennetta and I decided to take the 52 Hike Challenge – adventure version.  The 52 Hike Challenge is exactly what it says: a challenge to get outdoors and hike at least 52 times in the year with each hike being a minimum of 1 mile. For the last few years I’ve been hiking pretty often, sometimes relatively close to home, sometimes on the opposite side of the country or in other countries all together, but doing the 52 hike challenge encouraged me to ramp it up and focus a lot more on the opportunities in my backyard. So in tribute to my childhood experiences enjoying the outdoors ‘right in my backyard’, I’m going to talk about a few of the backyard hikes I’ve enjoyed so far this year. My photos do no justice to the sights that I saw.

Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers & Native Plants

TPF is a treasure that I’ve known about for many years, but had never visited until April this year. It also happens to be just 20 miles from my home, which can be very close or far, depending on traffic. The first time I visited TPF it was because they were one of the featured gardens on their annual Native Plant Garden Tour in April this year (thanks Jennetta). This garden tour inspired me to do the work on my own backyard that I had been delaying for some time and parts of this post were conceived and/or written while sitting in my backyard.

My second visit to TP was at the end of April and was because I needed to buy native plants for my backyard and wanted to hike their Wild Flower Hill Trail for the 52 Hike Challenge.  I see many more visits in my future, not just for plants or hiking, but also because the Bill’s BeesTM honey sold in their on-site garden shop is especially good 😊.

TPF was established to honour Theodore Payne and to continue his work promoting the use of native California plants to make the region healthier and more sustainable. TPF’s mission and goals are implemented through a range of educational opportunities, events, demonstration gardens, propagating native species (more than 900) and selling the plants and seeds. In 2017, TPF with LA County and municipal park agencies set up the Long Live LA Regional Conservation Seed Bank to “collect, document, and store locally sourced native seed.” In addition to its excellent work in the aforementioned areas, TPF is simply a wonderful location to see California native plants, relax, and enjoy nature along with great views of the area. It’s also a great place to buy native species to plant in your backyard! On my second visit to TP, I hiked Wild Flower Hill Trail with friends and got to introduce the wonders of TPF to my friend Abby, a young environmental steward whose love of nature will help to change the world around her.

Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon

At 11 miles from my house, Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon (EDP) is closer to home than TPF and is popular for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. However, hiking is the only one of these three activities I’ll be doing 😊. Managed by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), EDP also offers many opportunities to see wildflowers (standouts: farewell to spring, elegant clarkia, sticky monkeyflower) as well as panoramic vistas of the Santa Susanna Mountains and other parts of Santa Clarita Valley. As I hike these natural areas I often marvel at how wildflowers and other native plants thrive in seemingly harsh terrain with limited water and I struggle to grow some of them in my backyard. Perhaps my backyard has been too modified by human interference or I just haven’t yet figured out what’s best suited to the space.

I hiked Towsley with Jennetta and the Sierra Club’s SoCal chapter, and though there were some challenging climbs and switchbacks, it was well worth the effort. A special part of this hike is the ‘Narrows’, an appropriately named part of Towsley Gorge with beautiful rock formations and a trickling stream which I imagine is a lot louder and faster in rainy times. There are also a few oil seeps, a reminder of the fact that there were oil wells here. I found out about the hike through the Santa Monica Mountains Fund’s Outdoors calendar (https://samofund.org/calendar/) which is a great tool for anyone interested in outdoor and other activities in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and our wider region.

Santa Clarita Woodlands Park

Another great site right in my backyard is Santa Clarita Woodlands Park (SCWP), an immensely beautiful area with a range of tree species, streams, wildflowers and wildlife. SCWP is 20 miles from home and contains both natural and historic features. When I did this hike in June I was lucky to see many species of wildflowers, butterflies, a few bird species and a couple of cottontail rabbits. In addition to the sights and smells, the steady uphill trail provided good exercise for someone training for a 60 mile walk.

Within SCWP are two California Historical Landmarks (http://ohp.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=21387): Pico No. 4 (No. 516) and Mentryville (516-2). Pico No. 4 was the first commercially successful oil well in California and the world’s longest running well which operated continually from the 1870s until 1990. We now know the oil company that operated Pico No. 4 as Chevron. Mentryville was the oil town built around Pico No. 4. Johnson Park is a picnicking area that was used by oil field workers.

William S. Hart Regional Park

William S. Hart Regional Park Commonly known as Hart Park, William S. Hart Regional Park in Newhall is only 7 miles from home and is both an historic and a natural site. William S. Hart was a famous actor in the days of silent movies who willed his Newhall home to LA County to be a public park and museum.  

At Hart Park I celebrated 30 on the 30th – this hike was number 30 for my 52 Hike Challenge and I did it on June 30th. Hiking in Hart Park was a superb reminder of the wonders that are right in my backyard.

Hart Park has a few trails (Bison, Fritz, Friday, Lisbeth) with lookout points along them. I saw bison (as one would expect on a Bison Trail), birds, many cottontails (some posed for photos), lizards, a large rodent-like animal (perhaps a ground squirrel) that moved too quickly for me to photograph properly, plants like sticky monkeyflower, purple sage, what looked like firecracker penstemon, and so much more.

This hike like the others I’ve done in my backyard was steep enough that I could see great views of Santa Clarita.

This park is in a busy area of Newhall, yet when hiking along the trails it was hard to tell. Perhaps because it was Sunday, but I was grateful for the peace and even more grateful that I saw neither mountain lion nor rattlesnake. Seeing the caution signs makes shivers run along my spine, but remind me to be extra watchful. I was also very happy to see a composting demonstration area adjacent to the ranch house.

Central Park in Santa Clarita

Central Park is the closest site for the ‘backyard hiking’ that I’ve done so far this year. At just 5.5 miles from my home it was the perfect choice for a last minute hike on a Friday evening. Though I didn’t start hiking until 7:30 pm, with the long summer evenings I was able to get in 3 miles with various stops for photos before the sun had fully set. Another advantage of Central Park is that while most of the park is very developed, the cross country trail is not and offers a more rugged setting despite its proximity to more manicured areas in the park.

The amount of activity in Central Park also provided a sense of safety because I was hiking alone, while the trail offered enough of the natural experience of a more remote area. Since rattlesnakes can be found in the area, it was reassuring to know that I could call for help if needed and this allowed me to hike without obsessing about possible danger, though I was still on the alert for snakes … because snakes. While hiking I didn’t see or encounter any rattlesnakes (fortunately) but I saw some birds, heard some rustling in the plants that reminded me to walk in the center of the trail, and heard and saw several dogs – parts of the trail are close to the dog park. Hiking in the park at sunset was especially nice and cast a pretty glow over what I could see of the natural and developed areas of Santa Clarita.

A few more thoughts

Years of research show that there are many benefits to be gained from participating in outdoor recreation. These include being in nature, improved mental and physical health and wellbeing, enjoying physical activities, bonding with friends and family, challenging oneself and overcoming fears, escaping daily life, and more. There are also various barriers to participation such as cost, access, awareness that sites and opportunities exist, feeling unwelcome, etc. Understandably these barriers are experienced more by people of colour and those from lower socio-economic brackets (who often are also people of colour). Sites that are close to home, especially those that are within a radius of a few miles help to reduce these barriers. Sites like Central Park that are free to enter and to park reduce the barriers even further.

At both Central Park and Hart Park I was happy to see many people of colour enjoying the outdoors, though most of them were not hiking like I was. Nonetheless, I could see that they were enjoying the benefits of being outdoors: bonding with family and friends, relaxing in nature, and being physically active, so it doesn’t matter that they were not engaged in a specific type of activity.  We should do more to encourage children and adults to enjoy parks and green spaces close to home. As happened in my case, this could engender a lifelong love for the outdoors along with interests in environmental stewardship, conservation and protected areas.  Such interests will become even more important as we continue to grapple with threats to the natural environment and with climate change; though in the latter case we may already be at the point of no return. But these are ideas for other posts.

There is an immense sense of peace that I usually feel when I’m out in the natural environment. Fortunately there are plenty of areas where I can hike and have this experience within 25 miles of my home in Santa Clarita, some even closer to me than Central Park.  Plus I would hike in these five parks again. I plan to continue enjoying hikes in my backyard for the rest of this year and for many more to come. What good outdoor sites are in your backyard? Do you take advantage of them?

Here are a few sights and sounds of my own backyard which sometimes make it hard to choose between relaxing at home or going for a hike 😊.

Bird songs

3 thoughts on “Right in my Backyard

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