There’s always a guy


Or a gal. Behind almost every grand old building, park, or,
in this case, nature preserve, there are one or two people who lead the fight to
bring a fading treasure back to life and ensure its longevity.

 I’ve watched many a preservation battle here in Western New
York—and participated in a few—so I know how difficult it is to convince
politicians and their bureaucratic ilk that anything that existed before the
era of shopping malls and parking lots is worth saving. It’s the same story everywhere.
In all the brochures you pick up at these places, the narrative is almost
formulaic: at some point, the value of history, beauty, or natural resource falter.
Too often, historic designations are seen as obstacles in the way of progress. Mansions
become rooming houses; parks and preserves are sold to developers, mining
companies, or logging companies. Well, you all know this stuff. 

So it is a small miracle that the Torrey Pines State
, just north of San Diego, located on prime coastal real estate, surrounded by office parks and subdivisions, is
still dedicated to the preservation of its namesake plant, Pinus torreyana, and
is still undisturbed except for some trails and unobtrusive signage. Though the
land was set aside in 1899, it took many decades of efforts on the part of such
local heroes as philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps and naturalist Guy
Fleming to ensure that the pines would not be used for firewood or that roads
would not cut through the canyons.

The Torrey pine only exists in one other place in the world,
Santa Rosa Island, CA. Despite their rarity, I doubt I would have gotten that
excited about these trees without their dramatic Pacific backdrop and the
wildflowers that grow everywhere around them. It was too early for desert
wildflower sightings (farther inland) when we were in California, but Torrey
provided some tantalizing hints of what a hillside blanketed in sand verbena or
bush sunflower would look like.

You could still say that this preserve is endangered. There
is minimal staff; the preserve depends on its volunteer association, who man
the visitors’ center, provide tours, help remove exotic plants (we saw some
spraying while we were there), and run the educational programming. When nobody
feels like doing that anymore, what then? Parks throughout California are
cutting back on their hours and closing trails. In New York, the
soon-to-be-ex-governor announced a plan to close 50+ parks and historic sites. Without
enough Ellen Scripps to go around to save U.S. parks and preserves into the
future, one wonders—and hopes for the best. 

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. It is a beautiful setting surrounded by suburbia, and well worth the efforts needed to save it. You might be interested to know that the Torrey pine is relatively easy to grow even in northern California, most anywhere that the related Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress can be grown. Also, Torrey Pine in cultivation can be even more impressive than those in the wild; it seems to grow more vigorously with much more massive trunks and structure in a garden setting. The specimen at Golden Gate Park’s Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco is a perfect example of how massive they can be.

    I sometimes wonder if the grove of Torrey Pines that I specified for a 1000 plus home development in the Castro Valley hills over 10 years ago now, get owners curious about what they are. It is surely one of those California native trees that is rarely seen in landscapes, but equally as awe inspiring as our Redwoods…

  2. Many state parks and historical sites were closed in Illinois during a budget crisis-battle in state government a couple of years ago, but most have been reopened.
    It took a bit of hue and cry from the citizenry.
    Volunteer to make a difference with whatever your skills. It does make a difference.

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