Hirshman’s Trail: Neighborhood gem that needs protecting
October 23, 2012
In an effort to increase awareness, neighbors of Hirschman's Pond and Trail will be writing their thoughts and observations on the wildlife that live there.
Ricki Kartes: We have lived in the Nevada City area since the 1970s, and I worked locally for 34 years as a wildlife biologist. We purchased our property that borders approximately a quarter of the perimeter above Hirschman's Pond in 1998. Our home and backyard overlook the pond, and for the past 14 years, we have watched and studied the wildlife that calls the pond their home. The pond supports a variety of species and the following is my observation of just a few.
Prior to the trail opening, about 10 pair of wood ducks nested and raised their young at the pond. From our dining room window, we watched wood ducks battle acorn woodpeckers for the best nesting cavities. We enjoyed their whistle calls and their stunning colorful beauty.
Wood ducks require wetland habitat with low human disturbance. In just a few short months since the trail officially opened, the wood ducks left the pond and have not returned. Ever increasing numbers of trail users leaving the designated trail and venturing farther along the pond's edge, coupled with more floats and boats, have left the wood duck with no place to retreat.
To keep our local wildlife thriving at Hirschman’s Pond will take an environmentally aware public.
The western pond turtle is declining throughout its range, primarily due to loss of habitat via urbanization. In California, the western pond turtle is listed as a species of special concern and federally listed as a sensitive species. Often we have peered over our cliff's edge to observe the pond turtles. We have counted as many as 22 turtles grouped together basking on rocks and logs. For the first time in 14 years, female pond turtles made their way from the pond to our property to build nests and lay eggs. What a desperate sight to see them dig for hours in our driveway! We returned six females to the pond. Of the six, two had fallen over the cliff trying to return to the pond and were wedged in the brush. Fortunately, we found them and gently released them at the pond. Should these turtle nests be successful, the return trip for the young turtles will be an impossible task. From my experience, I believe that human disturbance has prevented these turtle from using their previous nesting sites.
The most plentiful residents of the pond were the large numbers of Canada geese. One could set his watch to their daily routine. The familiar honking and landings and takeoffs was always a delight the senses. Of course many would choose to spend most of their day at the pond. Unlike the geese one might see at a park or golf course, this population of geese is wild. Loud talking and loose dogs scare our geese at the pond. This year the Hirschman's pond resident Canada geese families with downy chicks were observed leaving the safety of the pond on foot (where they normally would stay until the young were capable of flight) and made a dangerous trek up and away from the pond. The once large numbers of geese at the pond have been reduced to just the occasional few.
To keep our local wildlife thriving at Hirschman's Pond will take an environmentally aware public. If trail users stay on the designated trail, refrain from loud noise and swimming, keep dogs on leash or leave their dog at home and save the floats and boats for larger bodies of water, it may be possible that these and the many other wildlife species that make the pond their home can coexist.
Eileen Jorgensen: Those of us who supported the vision for the Hirschman's Pond and Trail that Nevada City proposed in 2004 were inspired by the generous nature of the language. The Public Use Vision read, "Although the Hirschman's Pond property was significantly modified by the process of hydraulic mining during the gold rush days, the property has rejuvenated to a beautiful, restful, scenic, natural environment. Wildlife is abundant and plants and trees have filled every area of the property."
The vision statement goes on to say, "Improvements to the site will be limited to those that facilitate education, observation of natural process and outdoor recreation activities that utilize an undeveloped environment such as bird watching and hiking. The property will remain primarily in its unmanaged state with no significant development or disruption to the wildlife living there. The property should be viewed as an area for passive recreation, where visitors primarily pass through for a hike or bike ride,but do not remain for long periods of time. Active recreational opportunities, other than bicycles on the trail, are not recommended for this property and the city also does not intend to establish picnic areas, trash receptacles or large changes to the landscape."
Open to the public for the past six months, this pond and the 2 1/2-mile trail that travels along Highway 49, is already proving a priceless gem which needs oversight protection and care.
We are asking the city to consider signage and ordinances that reflect the original vision: No floating, boating, swimming or hiking off trail and enforcement of the dog-on-leash provisions. We applaud the city's vision for Hirschman's and hope that we, as neighbors, can collaborate on management of this unique resource. To this end, neighbors will be offering education articles to help the public understand and appreciate the value of this historic land.
Eileen Jorgensen and Ricki Kartes live in Nevada City.