Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Cascade Canyon

Less than one mile from downtown Fairfax, Cascade Canyon is very easy to get to. But its accessibility does not infringe upon the wildness you feel there. Cascade Canyon is bordered on the North by White Hill Open Space Preserve and to the west by the Marin Municipal Water District lands, and these three properties create a quilt of hills, canyons, streams and waterfalls with a network of trails and fire roads throughout. 

Like most of the Open Space in Marin County, the Cascade Canyon Open Space Preserve was once privately owned and on the brink of development before environmental activists stepped in and protected it for future generations. 

For decades Floyd Elliot, the former mayor of Fairfax, owned the acreage. In 1971 he was ready to sell, and the land was zoned for over 100 high-density condominium units. Coincidentally, Karen Urquhart, a woman who had grown up near the Cascades and remembers hiding from Elliot while on hikes so she wouldn't be kicked off his land, moved back to Marin that same year. When she heard of the development of her beloved Canyon, she vowed to stop it.

Urquhart organized People for the Fairfax Cascades and worked closely with government officials, activist organizations, and concerned individuals to save Cascade Canyon. 

Her environmental activism paid off, and Cascade Canyon became the first major land acquisition by the newly founded Marin County Open Space District. The county government paid for two thirds of the land and one third (about 176 acres) was purchased and donated by Debbie Ettinger. The Ettingers were a Marin County pioneer family, and a prominent feature of Cascade Canyon, Pam's Blue Ridge, was named as a memorial for Debbie's sister Pamela. Interesting fun facts, eh?

Today, the Cascade Canyon Open Space preserve comprises about 500 acres of incredible bio- and habitat diversity. From the serpentine outcroppings of Pam's Blue Ridge to the riparian corridor along the San Anselmo Creek, from the abundance of aquatic life when the cascades rage in winter to the few water skeeters present when the waters trickle in summer, Cascade Canyon is one of the most diverse open spaces in Marin.

Why I Love It
I still can't figure out which I like better: going to new places or revisiting the familiar to see what's changed. For me, Cascade Canyon is the epitome of the latter. I've been hiking around Cascade Canyon for years with my parents, brother, dog, and friends, since we first moved to Marin when I was 3 years old. The slopes, trees, bends in the creek, and bridges are all known. In many ways, Cascade Canyon is the exact same as it's always been. And yet, as the old paradox goes, it is constantly changing. The time of day changes how the light illuminates the colors in the trees. The season dictates the wildflowers and flow of the stream. If it's been hot and dry, there won't be as much moss on the rocks. If it's Thanksgiving, get ready to dodge mountain bikers! Cascade Canyon is the familiar place in my mind that proves to me, every time I go, how much it deserves a permanent place in my heart.

From the San Rafael Transit Center:
Take Golden Gate Transit Route 23 Westbound
Here's the bus schedule:
Get off at Fairfax
Walk down Bolinas Road about .4 miles and make a right on Cascade Drive
Continue on Cascade Drive about .5 miles until the road dead ends in the preserve gate marking the beginning of your hike



  1. Hi Catie,

    I love your concept and blog! Nice job! I hope you keep writing and posting! By the way, my link above (Gambolin Man) is not active. You might consider makign it active, as well as attributing the photos to me.

    Thanks, Catie! (I trust you got an A+ on this project, while also embellishing your soul with spiritual nourishment on each outing!)

  2. are you still pushing your limits, Catie?