Dear friends of Fort Ross and Salt Point,
Welcome, summer! We’ve been very busy at the park with plenty of tour requests, a bustling museum, and a surprisingly crowded parking lot both mid week and on weekends. I get the feeling we are all tired of living in our kitchen baking sourdough and we want nothing more than to explore other places and eat in other people’s kitchens. Everything feels a bit novel and new.
For us, today we gathered the Fort Ross Conservancy team for a staff meeting, our first in-person gathering in sixteen months. The pandemic saw all our school groups, events, and tours canceled such that the FRC team had their working hours reduced and almost everyone (save our dedicated bookshop crew!) worked remotely this past year. I’m grateful to the team for staying positive and adapting to what was a very difficult year. Today was a treat to meet in person, enjoy a picnic together, and begin to visualize a more normal summer and fall season.
And while we aren’t holding Fort Ross Festival next month, we do have some dates to share:
- October 16th, 2021: Harvest Festival
- December 11th: Fort Ross Conservancy Holiday Party
- May 2022: Reef Campground slated to reopen
- July 30, 2022: Fort Ross Festival (long overdue, so next year’s event will be a big one!)
We’ve got some great articles in this month’s newsletter I encourage you to read. And I wish you a pleasant summer season of exploration and novelty.
Fort Ross Conservancy CEO
Salt Point Camp Hosts Needed
Yellow Bush Lupine: Native and Invasive?
Walking down the bend of gravel road to merge with old Highway One at Fort Ross State Historic Park, a honeyed aroma reaches your nostrils. Following your nose, you take a right turn through the swinging wooden gate heading out into the cow pastures north of Fort Ross Cove. The source of the delightful scent becomes immediately apparent as your path opens up to the huge expanse of ocean terrace carpeted with silver-gray bushes covered with pale yellow flowers. You’ve discovered a field of Yellow Bush or Coastal Bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus) that’s filling the air with an incredible perfume like sweet peas in summer.
Yellow Bush lupine (lupin), while a true California native, comes with some controversy. The exact native range is unclear, but it’s thought that it originates south of Marin county, from Point Reyes National Seashore south to San Luis Obispo County.
Yellow Bush lupine does very well in poor soil and its roots are excellent at stabilizing eroding soils. It was widely introduced to Northern California,in the early to mid 1900s, particularly around the San Francisco Bay to stabilize shifting coastal dunes and bluffs. These days, Yellow Bush lupine grows from the river mouth of the Ventura River in southern California northward all the way to British Columbia.
Not only was it intentionally planted, but it spreads easily by seed. Because of this, the California Invasive Plant Council has declared the Yellow Bush lupine invasive outside its native range. As it spreads, it pushes out native species and often makes what we now have at Fort Ross - a monoculture.
To make matters more complicated, Yellow Bush lupine hybridizes with other native lupines. In fact, you can see examples of this right out on the bluffs of Fort Ross. Yellow bush lupine is also referred to as Tree lupine due to the fact that it often grows up to two meters tall. When on the hunt for the hybrid, look for a dwarfed plant, maybe 2 feet tall, with flowers of pale yellow and pale blue/purple. They tend to alternate colors up the flower spike.
Historically, the root fibers of the regionally native lupine species were used to make string nets. As mentioned in the Ethnographic Notes on the Southwestern Pomo by E.W. Gifford:
This flowering plant grows commonly along the coast. The fibers from its roots are used for string, which is called sulemA [sulema? "any string or rope" ]. String made from sinew is called ima [9ima"sinew" ]. Milkweed was not used for string by the South-western Pomo. The lupine roots were dug with a digging stick or an elk antler... Lupine bowstring [was] also used. It was almost as strong as sinew.
According to Jennie Goodrich and Claudia Lawson, the yellow flowers of the visually similar Lupinus luteolus Kellogg were “used in wreaths for the Flower Dance performed at the Strawberry Festival in May.” (American Indian Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, page 65).
True, the field of flowers is stunning, particularly right now, but these plants continue to present problems as they crowd native species out and change the pH of the soil with their pea-family nitrogen-fixing roots. California State Parks environmental scientists attempt to limit the spread of the population at Fort Ross using an integrated pest management strategy to control Lupinus arboreus. They have treated it with chainsaws to reduce biomass, herbicide to treat resprouts, and have hand pulled seedlings. They are hoping to treat it again this calendar year. Removal of the Yellow Bush lupine is a regular volunteer opportunity for students during our Marine Ecology Programs and if you’re interested, you can help us too during one of our invasive species removal days!
--Song Hunter, Distance Learning Programs Manager
Porto Franco - Forgotten dream of free trade zone in California
In 1837, the Russian American Company tried to transform Bodega harbor into the first free trade zone in the Pacific Northwest - a revolutionary idea for the time that aimed not only to reshape the economy of Fort Ross, but of the entire Alta California.
In addition to creating a free trade port, Bauer’s proposal called for a “colonization by German artisans and farmers” who would take over agriculture and manufacturing sectors at the Russian possessions. The introduction of Russian-German minorities to California, the Company thought, would not only benefit trade, but would also solve the labor shortages in its agricultural segment which has increased in Russian California with the establishment of three Ranchos - Chernykh, near present-day Graton; Khlebnikov, a mile north of the present-day town of Bodega, and Kostromitinov where the Pacific Ocean meets the Russian River.
What happened to Bauer remains a mystery to this day. Despite being granted permission to revolutionize trade practices in California, the German merchant never arrived in Bodega to transform the Russian harbor. Perhaps the fate of Russian California would have turned out differently if Bauer’s project was to succeed. The immigration of Russian-German minorities to the Great Plains after the American Civil War, for instance, had a massive successful impact on agriculture; for example the so-called ‘Volga Germans’ introduced Russian wheat varieties that soon became mainstays on the Great Plains. Perhaps, if the Russian-Germans settled in California, the Sonoma coast could have become the granary for Alaskan colonies the Company had always hoped Fort Ross would become.
After Bauer’s ambitions did not materialize, the Russians sold their Californian possessions to Swiss-born John Sutter, who paid $30,000 to acquire many of the materials and implements that went into the construction and development of Sutter’s Fort at New Helvetia (Sacramento). The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1848 would soon transform the entire Californian economy. But that is a completely different story.
-- Igor Polishchuk, Director of External Relations
Visit Fort Ross and Salt Point - Book a Private Tour Today!
It’s a great time to visit Western Sonoma coast - the hills are still green, the wildflowers persist, and while this season can be a bit windy, we are seeing migrating humpbacks and plenty of marine mammals.
FRC offers private and group tours at both Fort Ross and Salt Point. Both of these locations are rich in human stories and natural history, and starting your visit with a private or group tour can help you more deeply understand the landscape and history.
The Fort Ross museum and bookshop are open seven days a week.