Outside Classroom


Every day, when I get to campus, I park in the back parking lot near the Green Music Center, and cross over the walking bridge toward the main campus. But I turn left and head along the creek to class. Partly because it’s the most direct route, but mainly because it’s the nicest route.

Earlier this week, my Applied Ecology class spent our time walking all along the trail, looking at the plants and talking about different restoration efforts at different points.

Well, actually, we only walked along the paved part of the trail. At several places, there are markers showing where there is also a path that goes closer to the creek but we didn’t trek down that way.

One of the many signs showing where the trail leaves the pavement.

The pavement changes from asphalt to gravel at one point.

A lovely, quiet nature trail on campus.

We took a look at the creek as it is along the edge of campus — overgrown with blackberries and other plants and small trees.

A look up the creek.

And then we compared it to the part of the creek that runs through the suburb, where the water agency has done some clearing of the undergrowth, and trimmed some of the branches likely to fall and block the creek.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of water in the creek. In fact, there are only a few shallow puddles along the way. A couple of weeks ago, when it rained, there was water in the creek for about a week, but it’s gone now.

We didn’t cover whether that is a result of the dry winter we’re experiencing, or if there are other reasons. But she shared a report by ecologist Arthur Dawson showing the historical water pattern of the area. In the report, there is a document claiming that in 1862, in the course of one hour, 304 trout were taken from this creek, and the previous owner claimed she would catch steelhead. I can’t imagine any fish in the creek now, but according to the professor, there are sometimes speckled trout.

A look down the creek, at the previous restoration work.

We talked about the giant blackberry brambles that cover the banks and along the pathway. Most of the vines we could see were an invasive variety, Himalayan blackberries, but we also found some areas of native blackberry vines as well. We discussed how, when deciding what to do in the way of restoration projects, it’s important to recognize that even aggressive invasive species serve a purpose. The roots of the Himalayan blackberries are important to protect the banks from erosion and, in other areas, can provide a home for fresh water shrimp and other endangered species.

She stopped to point out areas where the blackberries have been cleared and other vegetation was growing in. For the most part, it was fennel and calendula. But in at least one spot we found a patch of wild hemlock. She told a story about a well-meaning kindergarten teacher took her students on a walk and gave them some to eat thinking it was wild carrot. Oops! (The kids were fine, once they had their stomachs pumped.)

Looks like wild carrot, but it's not. It's hemlock.

It was funny to watch other students and folks walking along the trail run into an entire class. We would stop and look up at trees, or climb over weeds to look down into the creek. I’m sure we made a funny sight.

A whole class walking along the creek.

We learned a little about the different types of that are found along the creek. We had a little lesson on the non-flowering types of plants: bryophytes, pteridophytes, and gymnosperms, as well as the angiosperms.

A cute little bryophyte!

While it started out cloudy and a bit cool, the sun came out about halfway, and turned into a nice day for a walk outside.

The sun came out!

We visited the native plant garden, and this tentative new bloom on the Mountain Lilac caught my eye. With all the weird, warm, sunny weather we’ve been having, I’m not surprised to see the trees and bushes budding out already. But some even have flowers already!

Even the plants are confused.

Finally, we talked about different animals that that can found along the creek. Obviously, there are lots of little birds. In the lake, there are several species of ducks and geese, who sometimes visit the creek. There are also several western pond turtles in the lake, who also visit the creek. And, there are reports of river otters coming up this far, from time to time.

But the cutest animal sighting?

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