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Ulistac Natural Area &ndash Where the Wildflowers Miraculously Grow

Ulistac Natural Area – Where the Wildflowers Miraculously Grow Ulistac Natural Area – Where the Wildflowers Miraculously Grow

Orange-gold poppies, yellow sticky monkey, purple ceanothus, gold flannelbush and wine-red hummingbird sage–the California natives sparkled in the sunshine on Wildflower Day at Ulistac Natural Area April 16.

Bay Area families dropped by with their kids and leashed dogs in tow. They were treated to Ohlone children’s games and stories, butterfly tours, bird watching, kids’ crafts, nature-focused display booths, mellow music by South Bay Folks and a hug from Smokey the Bear.

That Ulistac became what it is today–a 40-acre natural area in the midst of Santa Clara’s developing north side–is nothing short of miraculous. The parcel of land was an undeveloped section of a city golf course that shut down in 1988. An apartment complex had been proposed for the parcel, but the project failed due to the drop in real estate values after 1990.


The site became overgrown with weeds, homeless camped out there and four-wheel drive vehicles sped through it. Then in 1997, the Santa Clara City Council designated the land as a city park, and Ulistac opened to the public on May 12, 2001, almost exactly 15 years ago.

At the heart of the evolution of Ulistac Natural Area (UNA), are the many community volunteers who have developed it, donating countless hours designing, weeding, digging and planting native grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees.

Volunteer effort has doubled and includes more groups than before, such as companies like IHS Chemical and Intel. But we’re always looking for more volunteers, said Dennis Dowling, Executive Officer of the nonprofit Ulistac Natural Area Restoration and Education Project.

Sunnyvale resident Sylvia Mendoza has been volunteering at Ulistac for five years.

The reward is different than money, Mendoza said. She spoke about the story of how Dowling and volunteering at Ulistac have influenced her family.

Dowling is a retired Wilcox High School teacher and gave extra credit to students, including Mendoza’s daughter Gabrielle Trudeau, who volunteered at Ulistac. Trudeau fell in love with Ulistac.

And that’s the reason she majored in environmental studies at San Jose State University, and now she’s working at City Forest in San Jose, said Mendoza. All three of my daughters successfully studied something related to the earth because of Dennis Dowling.

Mendoza’s daughter Vera Cordova is studying biology at De Anza College and volunteers at Ulistac. Her third daughter, Daiva Trudeau, studied urban development and volunteers with a community garden in Oregon.

Volunteers from about 10 environmental organizations related to the earth informed and inspired visitors on Wildflower Day. Ann and Winslow Briggs from Palo Alto are uniformed state park volunteers at Henry Coe State Park, Morgan Hill. Covering 87 thousand acres, it is California’s second largest state park (

We stopped smoking and started hiking, said Winslow Biggs. He and his wife have volunteered more than eight thousand hours since 1996.

Bay Area resident Antonio (who asked not to have his last name published) represented the Costanoan Cultural Community. He demonstrated how to craft a canoe made of tule, a type of bulrush that grows in California wetlands, and shared stories about the native people of the area.

California native people are not all decimated. We’re still around. We’re working with organizations that steward lands, said Antonio.

With the extra rain this year, UNA just blossomed with wildflowers and shrubs. The growth on young trees is remarkable. Come back and see the changes from a few years ago–the remarkable changes–if you haven’t been here for awhile, said Dowling. And ‘like’ us on Facebook!

Ulistac Natural Area ( is at 4901 Lick Mill Blvd. Restrooms are across the street at Lick Mill Park.


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