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Burleigh Murray Update: An Orchard Emerges from the Wild

Volunteers are rescuing a nearly century-old orchard of fruit trees in the hills above Half Moon Bay.

Over the past 8 months, volunteers have gathered from all over the Bay Area to help restore an old orchard at Burleigh H. Murray Ranch, a local California State Park property that preserves the remains of a 150-year-old ranch.

The began last July, with volunteers beginning the hard work of clearing the orchard of underbrush--including blackberries, poison hemlock, stinging nettles, and poison oak.  The initial brush clearing to open access to the trees was completed during a workday last November.

To plan the next phase of the project, C. Todd Kennedy, an expert in identifying heirloom fruit varieties, was called in to assess the trees and recommend further steps to preserve them.

Kennedy, who is a fruit orchard historian and preservationist, found evidence that at least 44 fruit trees had once been planted in the orchard and many of the original trees are still alive, although suffering from lack of care.  He estimated that the trees were no older than 90 years—probably planted no earlier than 1920.  The surviving varieties include cherry, pear, apple, plum, fig, walnut, and hazelnut trees.

This past weekend Kennedy instructed nearly 30 volunteers on how to prune the fruit trees—removing dead wood, shortening branches that might break under the weight of fruit, and thinning branches that were crowded, overlapped, or shaded the center of the trees.  In only about 3 hours, eager hands were able to transform the trees and prepare them for the coming season of bloom and fruit.

The volunteer project is organized and managed by the Californian State Parks Foundation Park Champions program — a program created to help the parks deal with budget cuts by providing consistent, sustainable volunteer support in the areas of park maintenance and beautification. 

Stacy Beard, the Park Champion coordinator for the project, observed:  "Our Park Champions events are really something special, and this is thanks to enthusiastic volunteers. We usually learn a little, always laugh a lot, and end the day with a great sense of accomplishment.  Perhaps best of all is that, at a time when we Californians are seeing our state parks suffer from severe budget cuts — including 70 which are scheduled to be closed indefinitely starting this summer — the Park Champions program gives us an opportunity to make a real difference."

Much more still needs to be done in the Burleigh Murray orchard and there are other Park Champion programs in need of volunteers.  You can sign up to help on the Parks Foundation website if you would like to participate.

The local state parks also plan a major Earth Day volunteer effort at Burleigh Murray Ranch on Saturday, April 14th --register on line or call 1-888-98-PARKS. Volunteer registration for the project will open on March 6.

Whether you volunteer or not, Burleigh Murray Ranch is a delightful place to visit. Located off Higgins-Purisima road, about 1.5 miles east of Highway 1, it features an unusual 123-year-old barn, built in the style of an English Lake County bank barn—the only example of such a barn in California.  

The barn is reached by a 1-mile walk along a dirt ranch road which follows the course of Mills Creek into the foothills. This time of the year the walk is enhanced by blooms of some showy early spring flowers, including red currant bushes and two varieties of trillium.

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Skye Taylor February 28, 2012 at 05:47 PM
I would be very happy to placea couple of top bar hives in this area so the trees have their bees... who do I get in touch with to do that? thanks, Skye
GD February 28, 2012 at 06:02 PM
What a great and uplifting article. Keep up the good work of providing good news that puts a spring in our step!! Thank you.
Kristine Wong February 28, 2012 at 08:34 PM
That's a great idea, Skye. I would start by getting in touch with Stacy Beard at the California State Parks Foundation. Who would you suggest, Avis?
Kristine Wong February 28, 2012 at 08:36 PM
You're very welcome, GD — a big thank you to Avis Boutell for reporting this story.
Avis Boutell March 01, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Skye, Thanks for your kind offer. If you could email me how to contact you (using the link by my byline above) I'll pass it on the information to the State Park person who can respond. Avis

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