A quirky hand-painted sign greeted me and told me that I was entering the Greenleaf Interpretive trail, created by the Keepers of the Earth. I was hiking on Topanga Canyon’s Backbone Trail, which makes its way through the Santa Monica Mountains. The Backbone Trail is over 60 miles long, stretching from Will Rogers State Historic Park (Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades) north to Point Mugu State Park (north of Malibu).
The Greenleaf Interpretive Trail begins at the Trailhead of the Backbone where it meets with a paved road, Greenleaf Canyon Road. I followed this interpretive trail west, still on the Backbone, as it passed behind the Topanga Elementary School.
Continuing along the trail, I saw more colorful signs. Some signs were placed among a groups of native plants. Other signs taught visitors what the native plants might have been used for by the indigenous peoples, namely the Chumash Indians. I welcomed this way of educating hikers along the trail, who otherwise might not know what they were looking at, or realize the rich history of these chaparral plants.
The Backbone Trail at this point is an Oakland Ecosystem. Coast Live Oaks, Quercus agrifolia, provide life for many canyon critters, large and small, and comprise the most significant ecosystem in the Chaparral. For squirrels, birds, owls, racoons, and even the Wood Rat, the Oak Trees provide a home. The floor of the Oak forest is alive with insects, and bees make hives in their hollows. The Coast Live Oak is a food plant for the California Sister Butterfly.
The native plants along the Interpretive Trail were not planted by the Keepers of the Earth but were pre-existing.. truly native! My walk revealed the native plantings are in sad shape. This year has brought NO rain to Topanga’s State Parks, and here it showed. Many of the native plants announced proudly by the quirky signs did not come up this Spring. The Sticky Monkeyflowers were hanging in there as best they could, and I could see that previously a huge planting had flourished.
It was so dry in this Oak Woodland, that on my hike I came across two deer out in the middle of the day! A mother and one of her young were down by the creek, which was dry and not running, yet they were there looking for anything…
Which makes a native gardener wonder: how much help do you give your native plants in a drought year? And how much help do you give wildlife? A friend and I would leave water for deer sometimes. We liked to use the top of a trash can, an economical choice, and place it where deer would find it. It is important to note though, that if you do this you welcome other critters as well, and that includes Coyote.
The quirky signs continued. Besides signs about the native plants, there was a sign about a Rotted Log. It instructed the reader on all the benefits a rotting log brings to the forest floor. Wonderful! Most people have no idea a log left rotting is of any benefit at all, and think it’s just unsightly.
I loved this sign indicating a Wood Rat’s Nest could be found in the bottom of a nearby oak tree. The sign explained the construction necessarily included different rooms for the Rat’s various living quarters.
I left this section of the Backbone Trail proud of the Keepers of the Earth for taking the time to create this interpretive trail. I learned that the Keepers main mission is to show the youngsters the wonders of nature all around them right here in the Santa Monica Mountains, thus awakening them to their potential as future stewards of the earth!
As I suspected, the Greenleaf Interpretive Trail was originally constructed with the children in mind. The signs were created by Stacey Small, founder & teacher of the Keepers of the Earth, in 2011 to teach the children. But, she told me there was another purpose, as well. The road to the Topanga Elementary School is steep and hard for little feet to navigate. It was hoped this foot path would help children find an easier and more interesting path to school!
Do you have a favorite trail where you live? Would it make a fine Interpretive Nature Hiking Trail? If you are interested in making an Interpretive Nature Hiking Trail to help educate trail visitors about native plants they will encounter, you will necessarily need to include information about the trail’s origin, the flora & fauna that are to be found, and you will have to make sure you have the permission of whoever owns the trail.
Do you have a favorite trail where you live? We want to hear about it!
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