This Unknown Peninsulaby Jess Morton
One In A Million.
One in a million is the cliché often used to signify that something is outstanding, perhaps even unique. Well, I'll certainly concede both points when it comes to describing Madrona Marsh. But, one in a million is an apt description for this remarkable place in another sense as well!
Madrona Marsh is located in Torrance to the north of Sepulveda Boulevard and just east of the Del Amo shopping center. It is surrounded by commercial development, office buildings, tracts of residences and apartment complexes. To the casual passer-by it is little more than a partly wooded, shrub covered expanse seemingly destined to be overrun by the exploitation that has subdued all other comparable areas in the vicinity.
To those who are more familiar with it though, Madrona Marsh is an important reminder of our heritage. It is the last of the periodically flooded marshlands that once covered much of the southern part of Los Angeles. It is also a banner to be held up proudly by the citizens of Torrance who demonstrated that, despite great economic and political pressure, important places can be preserved for the benefit of future generations.
Vernal marshes, as such marshes are termed, are located in upland depressions where rainfall runoff accumulates. Usually vernal marshes are dry at some time during the year since evaporation and percolation drain the marsh during the dry season.
Because of this cycle of submergence and desiccation, vernal marsh habitats develop an extremely rich community of highly specialized plants and animals. Indeed, the variety is greater than it may at first seem, since different parts of the marsh will support different species depending on how much time is spent in and out of the water. Because vernal marshes last for long periods of time, and because they host an unusual environment, they are particularly apt to serve as the birthing ground for many unique and highly localized species. Just how many species and how wide-spread they may become will depend on the circumstances that apply to each marsh.
Madrona Marsh, like all of Los Angeles, can trace its ancestry to the San Andreas Fault. Over the last five million years, as our whole region has moved northwestward along the fault, what is now Los Angeles has been subjected to enormous crushing forces. The most conspicuous results of this compression are the transverse (east-west oriented) mountain ranges of Southern California. Of these, it is the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountain ranges which define the northern edge of the Los Angeles Basin. Smaller upthrusts to the south have produced the Channel Islands, including the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
If, as seems likely, the transverse ranges are as high today as they have ever been, it is only because the movement upward has outpaced erosion. And it is this erosion that is crucial to the formation of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Basin is the repository for all the materials that have been washed out of the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains by the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and other southward flowing rivers.
The relative topographic flatness of Los Angeles, as compared to its surroundings, comes from its origin in the overlapping alluvial fans from the rivers draining the mountains. The term alluvial fan refers to the way in which the solid materials (the alluvium) carried by a stream or river spread out and are deposited after the stream emerges from its mountain source. One look at an aerial photograph is enough to convince anyone how appropriate the word fan is.
As different portions of the mountains rose, as rainfall patterns changed, and as various parts of the Los Angeles Basin filled, the rivers shifted course and carried their burdens to new areas. In the South Bay region, the Los Angeles River became the formative agent. At one time or another, it has flowed into the sea at Marina Del Rey, San Pedro and Long Beach.
If that weren't complication enough, moving sand has also played its part in fashioning our area. Carried southeastward along the coast by the Pacific Ocean, sand has piled up southward from Malibu because of the Los Angeles River outflow and the presence of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Then, since our winds are westerly, the sand has been carried far inland to mix with or overlay the already present alluvial matter.
Madrona Marsh exists in a depression that has been formed in this relatively flat alluvial and wind-blown landscape. It is home to an impressive array of plants and animals, despite being subjected to years of pollution and abuse. Fortunately, scientists will have time to discover how this little ecosystem works. Through the diligence of the Friends of Madrona Marsh, an ad hoc grass roots organization, and the foresight of the people of Torrance, Madrona Marsh is now a fully protected nature preserve. And, in line with its importance, Madrona Marsh has a full-time naturalist, Walt Wright, to oversee its restoration and study.
There seems little doubt that Madrona Marsh has existed for many years because the floor of the marsh itself rests on a thick bed of peaty material--something which does not form overnight. On the other hand, this particular marsh has not been present for millions of years either, for geology says otherwise. Nevertheless, similar vernal marshes must have been a feature of the Los Angeles terrain since it began to form.
However, in the last few decades, we have drained and filled, scraped away and destroyed nearly all examples of this special environment. After a million and more years of formation, development and alteration, after hosting billions of creatures of thousands of species--some probably unique--the rich life of Los Angeles' vernal marshes is reduced to a single example in the South Bay, Madrona Marsh.
And it is in thus that I refer to Madrona Marsh--truly one in a million!