Twentieth century canyon dwellers, by Mary Millman

ALTHOUGH WE ARE NOW IN THE MIDST of a comprehensive project to collect an audio history of Claremont Canyon, the beginnings sprang from a casual curiosity about the early days in the canyon. Our board member, Tamia Marg, who spent her childhood there remembered “Tappy” Marron, whose family built the house that the Park District now occupies at the end of Gelston Road. The Marron clan were dairy farmers and Tamia knew that Tappy, or a relative, could be reached in Chico at the newer Marron ranch. After a few tries, we got her phone number and I subsequently drove to Chico accompanied by my old audio recorder and my still older camera. I was expecting a flood of anecdotes.

Warmly greeted by Tappy and her middle son, Peter, who had himself grown up in the canyon, I soon realized that there was more than entertaining stories to be learned and saved in the interview process. Tappy was 91 years old but her eyes twinkled and her memory was keen. She recalled when Claremont Canyon had thick vegetation only in the washes and ravines. She remembered with fondness her relation to the owls and the foxes and other canyon wildlife. The affection of her family for their Gelston Road house and surrounding holdings meant that a large piece of the canyon could be saved as open space when the Regional Preserve was created in the1970s. Tappy insisted that I get ahold of George Hemphill, her childhood friend and playmate who lived on the adjoining dairy farm to the north where the two aged poplars now stand.

After recording accounts of Joe Engbeck, our vice president, who had organized Friends of Claremont Canon and led it to the successful creation of the Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, and Afton Crooks, who was indispensable to that campaign to save Claremont Canyon, Tamia and I contacted George. He was only too happy to share his memories. Also 91, he recalled roaming the canyon on his horse Pronto and to this day follows the events and welfare of Claremont Canyon. At this point we realized that there might be more nonagenarians whose memories deserved recording. Among these are Hulet Hornbeck, now 90, who served the East Bay Regional Park District as Chief Land Acquisition Officer from 1965 to 1985. With full appreciation of the value of open space, Hornbeck retired from his post only after helping create the largest regional park district in the entire nation. He was especially proud of Claremont Canyon, the green north slope of which he could see every time he drove east across the Bay Bridge. We also interviewed Elwin Marg, also now age 91, who acquired 84 acres including what is now Gwin Canyon in the early 1950s for his desire to live in an area with low density and his wife’s affinity for nature and the outdoors. Dr. Marg provided an interesting perspective on the last great battle against residential development in the canyon.

At present we are concentrating on developing a comprehensive list of previous canyon dwellers and persons who contributed to the formation of the Regional Preserve. We know now that the story of Claremont Canyon is rich with personalities, experiences, and varied interests.   We are certain that these histories will make a significant contribution to the Conservancy’s effort to preserve Claremont Canyon.

focused only on the heightened risk that mature broom adds to wildfire vulnerability. With a few notable exceptions, the applied remedy has been simple: chop it down so it won’t be there in October when the fire risk is highest. However, unless the individual plant is very old, broom that has been chopped down in the fall will grow back with a vengeance in the spring. Does any predominantly native preserve like Claremont Canyon have a chance against an aggressor thus equipped?

Fortunately, both science and methodology exist to arrest and, with follow-up, virtually eliminate the broom invasion in all west coast open spaces, including a 500-acre watershed like Claremont Canyon. Modern land management for this purpose and a great variety of practical techniques are regularly taught at the workshops of the California Invasive Plant Council (CalIPC). Examples of successful broom elimination on public lands are readily available. Even within Claremont Canyon itself, a privately owned 15-acre parcel has been man-