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An Island in Suburbia

by Naturalist Michael Marchiano

An Island in Suburbia

Mount Diablo is an island in the middle of suburbia. It is a diverse habitat of cool wooded canyons with flowing creeks and cataracts in winter, spring, and early summer. It is a wooded oak forest, a grassy savannah, and a wonderment of rocky slopes covered in fascinating chaparral growth of ceanothus, chemise, manzanita, sages, toyon, currants, and silk tassels. It is a treasure of wildflowers in springtime and summer, a paradise for bird watchers, a challenge to hikers, and until recently, a mystery to geologists.

I was fortunate to be born and raised in the East Bay, living at the base of the Mountain since my early childhood. My first experience of snow as an eight-year-old was when my mother drove me, my brother, and our neighborhood friends up to Mount Diablo after one of those low elevation snow storms. I experienced cold snow and the worst case of poison oak I have ever had. Yes, you can catch poison oak in freezing weather from the leafless twigs of a poison oak plant.

As a Naturalist, I fell in love with Mount Diablo years ago. The various intriguing habitats offer a richness and fantastic diversity of plant and animal life. I am constantly learning new things every time I explore an area of the mountain. I first hiked it as a child and then as a teenager. I lived on the mountain for one year in my early twenties, fulfilling a childhood fantasy of working for Diablo Ranch as a cowboy.

As a young adult, I led outings for the Lindsey Museum, 4H groups, schools, and scouts. As a teacher, I had my 8th grade science class do a full semester ecology study of the mountain, including several camping and field trips.

Students that I have run into years after I had them in class have told me their greatest memories of junior high were the explorations and camping trips on Mount Diablo. Many can still recount to me the specific animal or plants that they wrote about for their project. When a child or an adult mentions his or her fear of snakes or spiders and then at the end of a presentation or hike volunteers to touch or hold one of these creatures, it validates all of the effort to do these programs.

By volunteering with the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association (MDIA), I have been afforded the unbelievable opportunity to share this wonderland with school groups, organizations, and visitors from near and far. In all of these endeavors I have had the opportunity to impart some of my love for the mountain to others. I have been given the chance to show people the wonders and mysteries of the marvelous plant and animal life on Mount Diablo and in the surrounding foothills. Seeing the amazement and wonder in people’s eyes as they learn about the relationship between a local and harmless tarantula and its foe, the tarantula "Hawk", or see a coyote in the wild for the first time, or watch a peregrine falcon flying overhead, is a great reward for me.

Saving and protecting Mount Diablo for all the flora and fauna is of paramount importance, but educating the public, especially upcoming generations as to the significance of biodiversity, whether the smallest microbe or an apex predator like a mountain lion, is also crucial. MDIA has become a crucial link between the park and the public.

For example, seeing the evidence of badgers on the north/west side of the Mountain for the first time in 40 years is extremely rewarding. It means that efforts to ban poisoning of ground squirrels and other rodents may be having some positive effect.

Mount Diablo is home to many rare and endemic plants, as well as several protected and threatened animals. In spring, people can easily see over 75 different wildflowers, 40 different species of birds, and 15 different species of butterflies all within a two-mile walk. Add to that the beautiful oaks, maples, buckeyes, pines, and other lush shrubbery, and you may feel like you are in the Garden of Eden.

Because of the enlightened thinking of prior generations and the continued effort of this generation. I am able to walk out of my home in Martinez, enter a public access path maintained by the Contra Costa Water District and East Bay Regional Parks, walk along this trail to Shell Ridge in Walnut Creek or Lime Ridge in Concord, into Foothills Park, following Pine Canyon into Mount Diablo State Park, hike over Curry Point, down the back side of the Mountain into Morgan Territory Park, into Round Valley Park through Los Vaqueros Reservoir property, and over to Brushy Peak on the Alameda County border. Many of the missing pieces of property that have made that trip possible were put in place by Save Mount Diablo. With the continued support of this and our next generations, that quilt of open and protected space will continue to grow for all generations to enjoy.

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