So near, so far
Watsonville Wetlands

Neil Wiley

It’s only 25 miles or so away from our mountains, but Watsonville is another world—a world of giant sterile shopping centers, little houses, swampy land, and signs in Spanish. This is where the City of Watsonville has built six miles of trails accessible via 29 entrances through 800 acres of marshland and sloughs right in the middle of high-density neighborhoods. It isn’t a wild land; it’s a wetland.

No, it’s not the forest primeval. You can hear the roar of buses, smell the greasy fumes from McDonalds, and see people of different cultures. Yet this is one of the largest remaining freshwater wetlands on the Central Coast, a place where over 200 species of shorebirds, waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds live. Some stay all year, others travel thousands of miles from Mexico, Central America, and South America on their migratory journey along the Pacific Flyway. (If you like birds, you can download a bird checklist by clicking on Wetlands and Trails at
The Watsonville Wetlands provide a home for 26 species of animals listed as endangered or threatened, including the red-legged frog, peregrine falcon, osprey, and golden eagle. Also, you can see more common wildlife such as muskrats, bobcats, and tree frogs.

Thirteen interpretive signs provide information about the natural and cultural history of the wetlands, as well as covering local conservation issues. Some are defaced by graffiti, but the stories are still visible.

My hike
I started my hike at the City Nature Center, located in Ramsay Park at 30 Harkins Slough Road. Open on weekends, the nature center displays local animal, plant, and cultural-history exhibits.

I walked behind the center to find a trail. I followed the Watsonville Slough Trail through an underpass that took me under Harkins Slough Road along the shores of the Watsonville Slough.

When the trail ended at Ohlone Parkway, I crossed the road and followed a sidewalk a short distance to the entrance of the Ohlone Loop Trail. This trail took me around the eastern shore of Struve Slough.

I crossed Harkins Slough Road and continued north. The paved trail curved to the left, behind a shopping center to provide a long and wide view of the slough. At Main Street, I turned right, following a sidewalk past a large shopping center to Ramsay Park, where I slalomed through the curves of a park walk that featured a small, well-manicured forest and a path down to my car. The entire loop was a little over three miles. (An excellent color map is available on the Wetlands and Trails page of the website.)

Although the dry winter may have limited the size of the sloughs and the bird population, it was a pleasant walk with interesting views.

Parking is free at the City Nature Center. You can walk, run, bicycle, bird watch, or bring your dog on a leash. Many of the trails are wheelchair-accessible. For more information, visit the website, or call 831-768-1622.