Ecological Staircase

Preserving the Jug Handle Ecological Staircase

By Jack Tomlin

Jug Handle Ecological Staircase

Jug Handle Ecological Staircase

The Jug Handle Ecological Staircase would not exist as it is today had it not been for a nonprofit organization called California Institute of Man In Nature. It was founded in 1968, in Berkeley, California to provide nature education pro­grams. The immediate goal was saving two sections of this Staircase.

The Staircase at Jug Handle Creek is a small slice of five uplifted ocean terraces spanning approximately 20 miles of our local coast. On the beach, one is standing on today’s time. Climb to the bluff top and one has traveled back in time 100,000 years. Each terrace is approximately 100,000 years older, taking one back in time a half million years as one travels from the beach to the fifth terrace. The terraces extend inland about 5 miles from the beach. Terraces 3, 4, and 5 contain some of the world’s oldest soils, soils, depleted of nutrients and extremely acidic. Here is where Mendocino’’s Pygmy Forests developed, adapted to this harsh environment.

Jug Handle Creek was the only site along this coast where development hadn’’t blocked the possibility of a public trail leading from the headlands on terrace 1 all the way to the fifth terrace. This was about to change. Two parcels, one on the back of terrace 1 and one on terrace 2, were scheduled to be logged and sold for development.

After receiving non profit status, the institute’’s board members took a big leap, taking on mortgages for both endangered parcels. They initiated an in­tensive fund raising effort throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The struggle to meet payments lasted until the end of 1975 when the state bought both parcels from the Institute, as it finally recognized the value of a complete staircase trail for the parks system.

Next came the question of what to call the new trail. State Parks got the public involved with a naming contest. Our board of directors entered the contest, and our submission was chosen. Why did we decide to leave out the term “Pygmy Forest” when this rare plant community had become known worldwide? We concluded that, although the Pygmy Forest was very important, the public needed to know that the trail had much else to offer.

In the early 1970s, the Institute played a major role in a lawsuit preventing de­velopment on the south headland of Jug Handle Creek Beach. A planned 80­ room motel, restaurant, and bar would have marred the serenity of this beauti­ful beach and severely limited the use of the first terrace of the Ecological Staircase.

Our non profit then acquired a portion of the historical Tregoning property just east of Highway One, along the south boarder of Jug Handle Creek, providing the Staircase with additional protection against development and providing us a place to offer our educational programs.

In 2001 a new non profit, Jug Handle Creek Farm and Nature Center, spun off from the founding organization, the California Institute of Man In Nature. With a very local focus, we were able to more efficiently develop and expand our educational programs that started in 1969. We are proud of the key role we have played in making this coast a better place for people and for nature.

Please ask about educational programs we can provide and be sure to visit the Jug Handle Ecological Staircase. Guests at Jug Handle Creek Farm & Nature Center have direct access to the Staircase Trail at Jug Handle Creek Bridge from our Farmhouse or Camp­ground. Those who prefer a shorter, easier path leading directly to the Pygmy Forest on the third terrace, can find this information from our innkeepers.

If you would like to learn the fascinating story of the Pygmy Forest & the Eco­logical Staircase, click the link below to download the article written by William W. Fox of Berkeley, CA – Ecological Staircase Article  (Adobe .PDF file)