Walking on Water
Neary Lagoon

Neil Wiley

Deep in the heart of the Santa Cruz west side is a 44-acre park and wildlife refuge dominated by a 14-acre lagoon. This wetland ecosystem provides critical habitat for plants and animals with food, cover, and breeding sites. It also provides rainwater storage to reduce flooding and filter pollutants. Yet what makes this lagoon uniquely valuable is its accessibility. Smooth, flat trails surround the park, and floating boardwalks allow you to walk on top of the water through the center of the lagoon.

Here is a great place to walk, push a stroller, or carry a child. It’s peaceful, quietly entertaining, and educational. You’ll see many kinds of waterbirds, tule, cattails, interesting trees, and if you look down in the water, many large fish. In a short walk of less than a mile, you can travel through marshlands, riparian woodlands, and over open water.

Interpretive signs at the Chestnut Street entrance and throughout the park add educational value, telling more about the watershed, plants, birds, and animals. Adults and children alike should find walking over the lagoon an interesting learning experience. Younger children will also enjoy the small playground, complete with swings and slides, located on the Bay Street side. (A bathroom is conveniently located near the playground.) Tennis and basketball courts are available, too.

While visiting Neary Lagoon, you may see mallard and wood ducks, pied billed grebes, coots, geese, herons, and hawks. Watch for belted kingfishers; they feed in the lagoon but nest in nearby cliffs. Although hard to see, you may hear sora and Virginia rail.
Rufous-sided towhee and black phoebe are permanent residents. In the summer, watch for tree swallows, and in winter, hermit thrush. In spring and fall, you may spot a migrating western tanager.

Although many birds are attracted by the water, others like the riparian woodlands, especially the willow groves. Look there for a yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, or Wilson’s warbler.

Under the water are native Sacramento suckers and prickly sculpins, a few rainbow trout, and some non-native largemouth bass, bluegill, carp, and mosquito fish. If you lean over the water, the fish may come up to see you, but no feeding or fishing is allowed.

Entrances to the refuge are at the end of Chestnut Street, the end of Blackburn Street, and at the corner of Bay Street and California Street (110 California Street). Metered parking (25 cents for 20 minutes) is available along Chestnut. The small street-side parking area on Bay is not metered but is usually full.

To reach the refuge, I drove Highway 17 south, north on Highway 1 (Mission Street) toward Half Moon Bay, turned left on Laurel, drove seven blocks, turned right on Chestnut, and followed a curve to the Neary Lagoon entrance at the end of the road. Don’t forget to bring quarters for the parking meter. And be sure to enjoy walking on water.