Thursday, June 5, 2008
It sits deep in a virtually uninhabited redwood grove next to the biggest sequoia in the county: An old, beautiful swimming pool accented by a strip of yellow decorative tiles, alone in the wilderness, empty save for the needles that have fallen from the sunlit canopy above.
The pool without a shallow end gives the 1,057-acre Mitteldorf Preserve a certain sense of fantasy and enchantment. But it’s far from the only element that helps accomplish that.
There are the mossy rocks, dotted with little industrious insects and big banana slugs. There’s the lush and fuzzy assortment of friendly ferns– the giant chain fern, wood fern and sword fern among them– and an old lodge made of logs that dovetails with the woods like it sprouted from the earth itself.
There are bouncy plank bridges, twisting trails, deer skulls with the antlers attached and acorns that have lost their caps. There are beautiful big-leaf maples, glowing green in the afternoon light, and saplings clinging to the shady safety of the forest floor. Then there are the big redwoods, as elegant as they are ancient, some with reiterated trunks, others with fire-created hollows called “goosepens,” enchantingly enough.
But the most powerful factor contributing to the fantasy effect has to be the preserve’s pristine solitude. As private property owned by the Big Sur Land Trust, the land is normally accessed only by members of the conservation-driven nonprofit. As a result, most of its biped foot traffic comes courtesy of caretaker David Zweifel, who lives here in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom “bunkhouse.”
“People who hike out here love the place,” Zweifel says. “It’s not heavily tramped.” Ideally, that’ll change slightly this Saturday, June 7, with the BSLT’s latest community day, a collaborative event with REI on the 16th annual National Trails Day.
Locals will have the chance to trickle along the easy-strolling paths next to Williams Creek or embark on more strenuous endeavors that climb Mitteldorf’s ridges with quick altitudinal shifts and give way to oak-studded meadows and surreal Monterey Bay views. Even more ambitious and involved souls can help perpetuate the preserve hands-on by contributing their energies to restoring trails, installing a stair or two and adjusting the wooden river crossings.
BSLT spokeswoman Rachel Saunders anticipates other links being built in the process.
“We like to bridge the increasing disconnect between people and nature,” she says.
Tucked between Palo Corona Ranch and the Santa Lucia Preserve (which borders Quail Lodge in Carmel), Mitteldorf is only accessible via a road that crosses the roughly 20,000 acres of the neighboring preserve, a private residential development formerly known as Rancho San Carlos. The last stretch of road, “a two-mile dirt road driveway,” as Zweifel calls it, is a redwood-spiked wonder all its own.
The scars from Mitteldorf’s past life are still visible, notches cut in the redwood trunks to give loggers a platform from which to take down the towering elders of the forest (though some of the slots cut into one of the trees near the pool could’ve supported diving boards).
From 1978 through 1988, Westbrook Land and Timber logged 3 million board feet of old-growth redwood– today, logging roads function as the primary paths for exploration of the preserve. In 1988, the BSLT proffered a purchase and, with the generous backing of Art and Harriet Mitteldorf, closed the deal. The price of paradise? A Williams Creek-cool $1.35 million.
Not long thereafter, BSLT secured a conservation easement that ensures the property will remain undeveloped in perpetuity, in line with its mission “to protect for public benefit those lands in Monterey County and neighboring areas that are significant natural habitat, open space, agricultural watershed, and recreational properties.” Unlike most of the BLST’s properties, Mitteldorf will remain their domain rather than be transitioned to more public ownership– that way, the trust can continue to use its lodge to host like-minded community groups and pursue partnerships with local youth agencies from Seaside to Salinas that bring kids in to camp, study and generally bask in the extraordinary energy of these backwoods.
APPROACH | From Highway 1 south, turn left onto Carmel Valley Road. Proceed two miles and turn right onto Rancho San Carlos Road. Shortly after crossing bridge, watch for signs and turn right into gravel driveway and parking area. Participants will take a shuttle to the property.
KEY STATS | Volunteer trail workers are asked to arrive at 9am; hikers at 10am.
Workers should dress appropriately and bring gloves; the BSLT will provide tools, supervision and snacks; projects will last until 2pm and the preserve will remain open until 3:30pm. REI provides commemorative T-shirts; all those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Visitors are encouraged to bring a bag lunch—but no pets.
SPECIAL INGREDIENTS | To register and find out more information, call the BSLT at 625-5523 x1 or REI at 883-8048 x203.