Thousands of people drive by one of Southern California’s only wetland preservations on their way to Target or the Del Amo Mall. The place doesn’t scream out for attention. When you’re driving down Sepulveda, it just looks like a big gate around what you imagine is another overgrown vacant lot. The fact that it holds the huge Madrona Marsh Preserve escapes a lot of us.
Madrona Marsh is 43 acres of vernal marsh and sand dunes located right in the hustle and bustle of Torrance. The area is home to a unique variety of plant life and a biodiversity of birds, bugs and occasional mammals. Across the street you’ll find their nature center, with its mini museum, gift shop and research facility. If you have the proper expectations, it’s an interesting bit of Torrance culture and a worthwhile stop for nature enthusiasts.
Madrona Marsh: A Walk In Time
If anyone is ever disappointed with Madrona Marsh, it’s likely because they had formed a preconceived notion of what a nature preserve and a marsh looks like. So lets start by dispelling some of these notions so that we can all have a good time on our future visit. It’s not a swamp full of dragonflies and Florida crocodiles — as a vernal marsh, it’s a region that turns into wetlands during certain seasons through rain water overflow. The transition from fall to winter is forecasted to be the time when pools form. If you expect the bayou, you’ll instead be met with acres of dry earth.
That’s not to say it isn’t interesting to look at. The soft sand goes on for acres creating a view of total absence that you don’t really see in the city, punctuated by strange spots of bright, verdant greenery. Keen observers will note the shift in vegetation and an all-star roster of trees like sycamores, cottonwoods, elderberrys and arroyo willows.
Also, as a nature preserve, it’s not really designed for you to have a picnic and play frisbee with your kids. There are barely 2 benches in the entire marsh. What it is though is an educational resource and a chance to bask in something relatively untouched in the heart of urban sprawl. It’s good for a long walk, especially if you’re well read enough to appreciate flora. The peacefulness is unmatched in the area. You can hardly believe that you’re in the middle of Torrance, even if you can see the tall bank buildings by the mall in the distance. At certain angles you can imagine a pre-development Torrance, a wetland that supported the Tongva people, and that’s important. Southern California is a wonder of the world, and part of that is not just its natural beauty, but its natural history.
The nature center is a homely little building across from the marsh that looks like a popular field trip spot for local schools. It’s not the Natural History Museum, no, but it’s still a good compliment to any walk through the marsh. Their main attraction is a museum room filled mostly with panels that educate you on the regions history, the way the ecosystem works, and various taxidermy models of potential wildlife. I got to take a funny picture of a raccoon and I may have identified a bird I saw in the brush (Say’s Phoebe?).
It’s a museum that could use an update, certainly, but it’s not as if it’s a bare skeleton. With a mini botanical garden surrounding it, it’s more than worth a look, even just as a community center.
Madrona Marsh – (310) 782-3989
3201 Plaza Del Amo,
Torrance, CA 90503