A few months ago I stopped by the new Carlsbad high school project site at the corner of Cannon Road and College Boulevard to check things out. Most of us recognize the importance of education and readily support schools in our community. But there are other community values we cherish as well. While I was there, a pair of courting red-tailed hawks flew up into a tall eucalyptus tree on the hillside overlooking the school site. It made me smile, and it gave me hope. Whatever we do, the resiliency and exuberance of nature will find a way.
Calavera Creek runs along the edge of the new high school project site. She’s a diminutive little lady, just a small tributary. On first blush she might appear to be a modest natural resource within our community. Calavara Creek is already impacted by various development projects that have occurred over the years. Her boundaries have been restricted, her banks straightened in places, her flow of water unnaturally channelized and contained in steel and concrete culverts. But, thank goodness and bless her heart, she continues to do her work, still serving an essential role in our community.
Calavera Creek receives the runoff from our urban yards and streets, and, where left natural, her meandering banks slow the water flow to prevent erosion and excess siltation further downstream. She reduces flooding in developed areas and helps stem runaway erosion. Calavera Creek is a natural bio-filter of water pollutants. Where left undisturbed, the reeds and other stream vegetation along her banks filter out the excess nutrients that would otherwise impact water quality in our downstream lagoon.
Calavera Creek provides a green belt of vegetation which acts as a natural air conditioner. The trees and shrubs along the riparian corridor clean the air by reducing the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere, thus reducing the rate of global warming. They store water and then release it into the air during periods of heat and drought, increasing humidity and reducing the ambient air temperature, making life more bearable for all of us.
Generally speaking, Calavera Creek provides three distinct habitat types — fresh water stream, fresh water marsh and riparian woodland. She thus provides a home for unique, habitat-specific species, including a number of federal and state-listed plants and animals. Calavera Creek also serves as a breeding ground for many other beneficial birds, butterflies, bees, toads, etc. — a number of which grace our backyards in their adulthood. The plants and animals along Calavera Creek represent our natural heritage.
Calavera Creek provides a connection between separated habitats, helping ensure genetic diversity within a species and promoting range expansion for isolated species. This connection between protected habitats also allows for repopulation of areas where plants and animals may have been decimated by catastrophic events, like the brushfires of recent years.
The natural open space of Calavera Creek is a respite from urban development. Studies consistently show that exposure to natural open space reduces stress and anxiety. Calavera Creek provides a scenic view for homeowners and travelers within the community. She serves to reduce the overall development footprint of the community, and hence the sum total of negative impacts like traffic, noise, visual clutter, unchecked runoff, chemical pollution, nighttime lighting, etc. Calavera Creek provides an inexpensive and local natural recreational outlet for wholesome, family-oriented activities like hiking, jogging, biking, bird watching and nature exploration.
Someday in the not too distant future, our children will be studying history and math, and other assorted subjects at their new high school. Perhaps the shrill call of a pair of red-tailed hawks, the ghosts of my visit, will rouse them from their studies. I hope they’ll take a moment to look out upon the little creek that skirts the edge of their parking lot and athletic fields, and take pleasure in the presence of wild nature in their community. Then they will have learned their lesson. Calavera Creek, our little lady, is deserving of our respect, deserving of our appreciation and deserving of our care.
Environment Corner is a weekly space devoted to giving a voice to local environment issues. Send submissions 500 to 700 words to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Environmental Corner” as the subject line.