Habitat and History at Fort Ord, Monterey, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13297A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help restore the rare Central Coast Maritime chaparral ecosystem at one of the country's newest national monuments
  • Discover this hidden gem of land next to the Monterey Peninsula
  • Enjoy meals emphasizing abundant local agriculture


  • A group trip to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • A drive-to campsite that is exclusive & restricted
  • All meals and snacks prepared by an expert cook


DatesSep 29–Oct 6, 2013
StaffCara Wilson

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The trip will be based at Fort Ord National Monument, now managed by BLM (Bureau of Land Management), but formerly a military base from 1917 until 1994, when it was decommissioned. Fort Ord was a major training facility for the army from World War II through Desert Storm. While a former military base sounds an odd choice for a Sierra Club trip, military bases provide nice refugia for wildlife and fauna since they are basically huge tracts of largely undeveloped land. Fort Ord National Monument certainly fits in this category, and BLM's mission for the area involves providing habitat preservation and conservation, and high-quality, environmentally sensitive recreation opportunities. The land is a huge piece of rare Central Coast maritime chaparral, with a large number of vernal pools. The roads (open only to authorized vehicle traffic) and trails are used by hikers, runners, bicyclists and equestrians. Fort Ord is one of the country's newest national monuments. In honor of Earth Day, on April 20, 2012, President Obama designated Fort Ord a national monument. The historical significance of this land predates the U.S. military presence -- the early Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza forged an overland route from Mexico to San Francisco Bay, which passed through what is now Fort Ord National Monument.

More than a million service people passed through Fort Ord when it was an active military base.  We particularly welcome those on the trip who spent time at Fort Ord when it was an active base.  Hearing their recollections was a compelling aspect of the inaugural trip in 2012.  (See also the Sierra Club's Military Families and Veterans Initiative.)

The Project

We will spend three days working on the Fort Ord National Monument, which is managed by BLM. Our work will probably involve a combination of trail clean-up, invasive plant removal, and native seed collection. We will also spend one day working at the campsite. This property has been used as a group campground in the past, but in recent years has been subject to vandalism, and currently needs maintenance. The camp property has been set aside for the development of an environmental education-based youth camp. While there are still potentially dangerous discarded military munitions on some parts of Fort Ord, we will not be entering into those areas.


We will assemble at the campsite adjacent to the BLM Fort Ord National Monument in the late afternoon on Sunday, September 29. The first meal we provide will be the evening meal that day. We will work four days in all, taking two days off to explore and/or relax. The trip will conclude after breakfast on the morning of Sunday, October 6. 

On one of the days off there will be a planned group outing to the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the historic Cannery Row in Monterey. On the other day off the group activity will be visiting the beaches around Monterey Bay and the ocean.

There are numerous alternative options that participants can choose to do on their own, either in lieu of the planned activities, or before or after the trip. Those wanting a wilderness experience can explore the 86 miles of trails on 7,200 acres of land within Fort Ord National Monument, or hike some of the rugged coastal peaks in the area that offer breathtaking views of the Pacific. There are multiple ways to experience the nearby Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary -- scuba diving in the kelp beds, going on a whale watching cruise, horseback riding on the beach, kayaking, etc. Literary types might want to visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, 20 miles to the east, which pays tribute to the Salinas native, John Steinbeck. For history buffs, several of the 21 California missions are a short drive away (Carmel, Santa Cruz, and San Juan Bautista). Feel free to contact the leader (a Monterey local) for more information on these activities.



Getting There

The Monterey airport is less than 15 miles away, and the campsite can easily be reached by a short taxi ride from the airport. The campsite is accessible by a private paved road that we will be able to use, but is not open to the general public. The San Jose airport is 65 miles to the north, and the San Francisco airport is about 100 miles to the north. The trip leader will provide accepted participants with detailed instructions on accessing the campsite and roster information to facilitate ride-sharing.

Accommodations and Food

We will be tent camping in a site set aside for future development as a youth camp. You will need to provide all of your own camping gear, including your tent. Currently this is a very rustic site, with only an open shelter available to serve as our kitchen area. There is no running water (however, water will be provided), no electricity and no flush toilets (there will be Porta-Potties). Think of our week as a hybrid experience between car camping (the site is accessible by a paved road, which is closed to the public) and backcountry camping. This will be a great opportunity to see how you like a "backcountry" experience if you have never tried it. We will have the site to ourselves, with the exception of the occasional runner or mountain biker going through on one of the trails.

This area of California is considered the salad bowl of America and the options to purchase local, organic vegetables and fresh-caught local seafood are abundant. As much as the budget allows, we will use these local sources when planning our menus and purchasing our groceries. Menu planning also has to take into account that the only refrigeration will be using coolers with ice, some foods must be protected from animals, and only portable propane stoves will be available for cooking.

We have a group commissary with everyone taking turns in food preparation and kitchen cleanup. Our first meal will be dinner on day one and our last meal together will be breakfast on the final day, with the option of packing a "to go" lunch.

Before applying for the trip, people with food allergies and/or strong food preferences should contact the cook to see if accommodations are possible.

Trip Difficulty

All service trips are considered to be moderately strenuous. However, our work will involve only light-duty hand tools and there will be a variety of tasks to suit each person's abilities. We'll each work at our own pace. Health and safety is a very high priority, and you are the best judge of your abilities.

Equipment and Clothing

BLM will provide the tools for the work project. In addition to your regular camping gear, come prepared to work with sturdy boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirts and leather workgloves. You will need a day pack to carry your lunch, water, raingear, sunscreen, etc. You will need hiking boots while we are working on the project, although it is not anticipated that there will be much hiking necessary to get to the work sites.

The Monterey area is known for its misty fog, which provides natural air-conditioning, so it rarely gets too hot. However, October often has more sun than fog, and we could experience summer-like conditions or rainstorms. Prepare for all options, and plan on dressing in layers. 

We will provide food and the necessary equipment for cooking. You will need personal eating utensils such as bowl, cup, and spoon. A plastic food container (preferably two) with a tight-fitting lid is necessary for carrying your lunch to the work site each day.

We will provide a first-aid kit for emergencies, but you should bring moleskin, Band-Aids, and Tylenol (or the like) for dealing with the little aggravations of life, as well as any personal medications you require. Please do not forget that all participants must have a current tetanus shot within the past 10 years. This injection is most commonly available from your doctor or at your local public health department for a modest cost.

A full list of needed equipment will be sent to you after you've been accepted onto the trip. If you have questions please contact the trip leader.




  • Palumbi, Stephen R and Carolyn Sotka, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay, a Story of Revival.
  • Steinbeck, John, Cannery Row.
  • Steinbeck, John, East of Eden.
  • Steinbeck, John, Sweet Thursday.
  • Steinbeck, John, Tortilla Flat.
  • Uhrowczik, Peter, The Burning of Monterey: The 1818 Attack on California by the Privateer Bouchard.


We will learn about the different habitat types, such as riparian forest, perennial grasslands, and vernal pools that the BLM is conserving and protecting on the Fort Ord National Monument. These lands are essential to the survival of sensitive plants and animals. For many of the rare plants, 50-90% of their worldwide habitat occurs here. 

After the Fort Ord military base was decommissioned a large chunk of the land was given to BLM; however, much of the area surrounding the Monument lands is facing some controversial plans for development. We will also learn about these development issues.



After moving around most of her life, Cara finally settled down in Monterey 10 years ago. She is very excited to have an opportunity to share this slice of paradise with others. She spends most of her Saturday mornings running the trails of Fort Ord and has developed a special love for this interesting piece of land. She works as an oceanographer for NOAA in Monterey.


Michal Phillips loves the outdoors and loves to cook for hungry service trip participants. She is a Cooking Channel aficionado, who first learned to cook in a vegetarian restaurant in Berkeley in the 1970s. She has a wide range of international, healthful, and delicious specialties. She is an avid SCUBA Diver, cyclist and runner.


Gail Chesler

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