Julie Maxey-Allison | 10th Street
Interview with Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve’s Darren Smith, Senior Environmental Scientist, California State Parks, San Diego Coast District
Darren Smith reports that the Torrey Pines Reserve is now being taken care better than it has been in the past, to insure the reserve’s future. “For the first time in eight years we have funding for more experienced staff to do the needed repairs and preventative maintenance that had been deferred. There is always a lot of work to maintain trails and it is now going on.” The issues the reserve faces are sea rise and eroding bluffs and draught that is killing the Torrey Pine trees.
Remember Sisyphus of the Myth, the guy who pushes that heavy stone uphill only to see it roll down and continually pushes it up yet again? Tough, but at least he had a hill. The Reserve is losing its hill. “The problem is our bluffs are sandstone, with old trails that are ‘fall line’ trails that go straight down. Runoff water follows those trails down, damaging the already unstable bluffs.” Some have succumbed. The old Fat Man’s Misery trail was closed because of a stability issue.
Happily, Headquarters in Sacramento has given the go ahead to “redesign” downtrodden trails. The plan is “to make them more parallel to the top, moving trails down in a zig zig pattern to curb water flow and erosion—of course with California Coastal Commission permission. It took some time to convince those in Sacramento that the Reserve attracts 3 million people a year and is in demand year round. With social media users inviting the public to come see the beautiful views, we don’t have an off season.”
To keep hikers off receding cliffs edges the Reserve switched the guide fencing to slender eye rod and cable.“We want to keep the public safe, and moved some fencing away from edges. While the new fencing doesn’t disappear, it is much lighter looking than the old wooden posts.”
How to handle the vast numbers of visitors? Admittedly, the Reserve is worried about capacity. There are no plans to limit the use of the Reserve at present as Pt. Lobos and some other parks have done, but the Reserve “might have to in the future. The thought is to keep up with current usage through maintenance.”
Of course it isn’t only the visitors that cause wear on the site, it is climate change, the drought and the sudden heavy rains.
While the Reserve lost 15% of the trees population, stressed by the bark beetle, also at home here, and the below normal rainfall in the past 15 years, it has happened before in the 1960s and the 1980s and now with less rain and moisture predicted.
Darren, a chaparral biologist, also points out “In addition to the Torrey Pine trees the Reserve hosts some 50 rare plant species—some more rare than the Torrey Pine and we want those, too, to thrive.”
In addition to the immediate work being done, “We are looking to climate reforestation on the North facing slopes possibly on the Guy Fleming Trail, near to the lagoon to give trees their best chance. We will be working with the San Diego Zoo and the Institute for Conservation Research on how to maintain a sustainable reserve. As the climate gets hotter and drier we need to be smarter. And, in 1888 only 200 Torrey Pine trees existed at the site and now in 2019 we have 3500.” For information and updates or to volunteer: torreypine.org.