Thursday, April 11, 2013

Little Darby Environmental Education Area, Willits - BLM Acarta Field Office

Transition from Fir Forest to Brushland
Little Darby Environmental Education Area is located 6.6 miles east of US 101 in Willits on Mendocino County Road 306/Canyon Rd. This small isolated piece of BLM land is truly a hidden treasure. The Little Darby area includes 3 distinct micro-environments; a small creek/riparian area, a Fir forest, and Chaparral brushland. Unlike most BLM land, activities here are limited to hiking, picnicking and off leash dog walking. You don't have to worry about hunting or target shooting here (while I fully support the responsible use of firearms it is nice to have a family area without them).

Crews form the Ukiah California Conservation Corps built the original nature trail when the area first opened in 1978. Winter storms in 2005 & 2006 damaged a culvert and caused increased sediment flow into Little Creek. In 2012 the Little Darby Environmental Education Area was closed briefly so the Ukiah C.C.C. could provide trail realignments, riparian area restoration, downed tree removal and storm damage repair. In the meantime students from Humboldt State University spent the semester designing the graphics and text for new interpretive signs at Little Darby. Students from Willits Charter School created artwork inspired by their field class that was held at Little Darby each Friday in the winter and spring of 2012. BLM staff members from Arcata  joined the students for projects including plant and fungi identification, water quality monitoring, wildlife camera maintenance and geomorphology lessons.

Trail map
The parking area is well marked and obvious on the north side of Canyon Road. Once you arrive check out the kiosk for information including a trail map. There are only two trails, both are loops. You have to take the lower Forest Loop trail in order to reach the Brushland Loop. Follow the trail from the road, cross the bridge and continue on to the picnic area. Once at the picnic area you will have a choice of heading up hill to the left or slightly down hill to the right. My advice is to take the trail to the right because the informational signs will be more in order.

After you pass the first sign there will be a small bridge leading to an opening with two benches, this is the study/outdoor classroom area. Just south of the bridge Big Canyon Creek and an unnamed creek come together. From the bridge the trail continues up hill through the Douglas Fir forest. Here in the under the canopy in the canyon the forest cool. Every few hundred there is an informational sign reveling insights about the immediate surroundings. The trail will eventuality fork near two large toppled Fir trees, you can continue straight/left and return to the picnic area on the Forest Loop or turn right and head up the Brushland loop.

Sanhedrin Mountain in the Distance
On the Brushland Loop as you approach the ridge the foliage begins to change from towering Firs to shorter Madrone and Chaparral. Here it is much warmer than the canyon floor below, the canopy thins and you can see Sanhedrin Mountain (6,175') located in the Mendocino National Forest (I'll be heading up there soon). The climb is now over, and you have picked up around 300' of elevation. As you head down hill you will see a trail to your left, this is the Forest Loop, keep right again and you will be back in the picnic area shortly.

I visited this spot with my kids and I highly recommend taking your children if you have any. We stopped at each informational sign and learned about our surroundings. The trail, if you take both is less than 1.5 miles long with an easy climb. One could easily hike the trail in about 40 minutes but if you are taking young ones and plan on really taking in the area give yourself at least 90 minutes and consider taking lunch, the newly installed concrete picnic benches are nice. Also remember you can take you dog off leash as long as its under your control. Best seasons are spring, fall and winter, normal California environmental hazards; ticks, bees, rattlesnakes. 

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Use Address 6500 Canyon Rd, Willits, CA in Google Maps

BLM Arcata Little Darby Page

BLM News Letter, Little Darby

View Little Darby BLM in a larger map
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