Habitat and History at Fort Ord, Monterey, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14308A, 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 wildland next to the Monterey Peninsula
  • Enjoy meals emphasizing abundant local agriculture


  • A group trip to the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Exclusive use of a drive-to campsite with restricted access
  • All meals and snacks prepared by an expert cook


DatesOct 5–12, 2014
StaffCara Wilson

Trip Overview

The Trip

Fort Ord National Monument is home to some of the last natural wildlands on California’s scenic Monterey Bay. Located on the former Fort Ord military base, this new national monument -- designated by President Obama on April 20, 2012 -- hosts 35 species of rare plants and animals along with their native coastal habitats, which are protected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

While a former military base sounds like an odd choice for a Sierra Club trip, many are surprised by the sheer volume of undeveloped land found on installations such as Fort Ord. BLM’s mission for the area involves providing both habitat preservation and high-quality, environmentally sensitive recreation opportunities. The roads and trails crossing this landscape of rare Central Coast maritime chaparral and vernal pools are used by a multitude of hikers, runners, bicyclists, and equestrians.

The historical significance of these lands far predates the U.S. military’s presence from 1917 to 1994, when Fort Ord was a major training facility for the army from World War II through Desert Storm. Centuries earlier, the Spanish explorer Juan Batista de Anza forged an overland route from Mexico to San Francisco Bay that 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 to the trip those 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 maritime climate of Monterey keeps the region at moderate temperatures. Fall, however, is the most glorious time of year in the region -- between the summer fog and winter rains -- and the weather is usually pleasantly warm (not too hot) and sunny, with cool evenings.     

The Project

We will spend three to four days working with BLM at Fort Ord National Monument. Our work will probably involve a combination of trail cleanup, invasive plant removal, and native seed collection. Part of the group 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.


We will assemble at the campsite adjacent to the national monument in the late afternoon on Sunday, October 5. 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 12.

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 (admission included in the trip fee). On the other day off, the group activity will be visiting the beaches and shoreline around Monterey Bay.

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 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 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 120 miles to the north. Detailed instructions on accessing the campsite will be provided to accepted participants by the trip leader, along with 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 work gloves. 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, and hence it rarely gets too hot. However, fall often has more sun than fog, and we could experience summer-like conditions or rainstorms. Prepare for all options, and plan on layering as you dress.

We will provide food and the necessary equipment for cooking it. 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, bandaids, 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.




  • 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 Public Lands. 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 land surrounding the BLM Public Lands are facing some controversial plans for development. We will also learn about these development issues. 

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



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.

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