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East Bay Times

‘Armchair tour’ of Contra Costa County’s Mount Diablo

This article was originally published on March 27, 2014 by the Contra Costa Times.

By Lou Fancher

Every mountain tells a story.

Buried in fossils and foliage, springing forth from wildlife and ancient myths, Mount Diablo’s panoramic narrative will be given human voice at an “armchair tour” presented by Greenbelt Alliance outdoor coordinator Ken Lavin.

There may be no better guide than Lavin, a Concord resident who’s led thousands of children and adults along Mount Diablo’s trails.

He’ll give an “armchair” tour this coming Sunday at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center.

Lavin grew up in Chicago and admits, “I wasn’t attuned to the outdoors.” His earliest memory of a significant outdoor activity happened while he was attending college in Southern California. A young man’s natural interest in history and a smoggy hike in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park got Lavin hooked.

Moving to the Bay Area to work as an attorney, his curiosity about local geography continued, eventually causing a career-changing journey.

“I was teaching kids about the outdoors, through Diablo Nature Adventures, and discovered I wanted to do it full time.”

Lavin became a National Park Ranger at Muir Woods and the Marin Headlands and was active in the Sierra Club. His current part-time position with Greenbelt Alliance, an organization that influences open space policies by encouraging infill development, puts him exactly where he most likes to be: outdoors.

And Mount Diablo is his favorite location for adventures, especially when accompanied by Maverick, his four-legged traveling companion.

“He’s a mixed breed — the kind of dog that can walk forever and remembers the trails better than I do,” Lavin says.

Named after the western television series starring James Garner, Jack Kelly, Roger Moore and Robert Colbert that ran from 1957-1962, Lavin says Maverick approves of the song he carols during their walks. The show’s theme song lyrics, including the repeating line, “Maverick is a legend of the West,” says it all.

“Maverick doesn’t howl when I sing, so I guess that’s a good sign,” Lavin says.

In many ways, Lavin’s former occupation as an estate lawyer, work that involves planing for the future with an appreciative eye on the past, is not unlike his role as an open space advocate.

He says defending urban growth lines and ensuring they are not expanded involves valuing long-established farm and ranch lands. To simultaneously encourage economic viability, city planners must be made amenable to smart growth along urban corridors.

“The best way to reach people and influence city leaders is through citizen groups,” Lavin says. “We try to get the word out. Most people don’t know Contra Costa County has the most acres at risk of any county — over 18,000.”

Concord, he says, is one city “getting it right.” The original proposals for the Concord Naval Weapons Station were “sprawling developments,” he says.

Praising the community groups that worked with Concord City Council, he says, “The development is now concentrated around areas like BART, and the hills will be protected. Now, Broadway in Oakland is a place where we’re active. Community by community, we’ll have a big impact.”

Last year, the Morgan Fire impacted Mount Diablo dramatically, and reminding East Bay communities of the geological treasure in their backyards. Lavin says regrowth — of local interest and wildflowers unseen since the last fire in 1977 — is exciting.

“Start at the bottom and go up: you travel back 200 million years by the time you’re at the top,” he says.

But it’s not just mysterious volcanic rock at the mountain’s base, or its Jurassic-era peaks, that make a trip up the mountain, even a seated one, a form of time travel.

Lavin’s PowerPoint presentation will introduce human stories of people like Clarence King, the youngest member of an 1850s geological team that explored Mount Diablo. King went on to become a national hero when he uncovered Colorado’s fraudulent “Diamond Hoax of 1872” — saving many Americans from financial ruin.

“Sometimes people are in awe of the fossils, but they don’t know the back story,” Lavin says. Asked if he’d close the talk with a rendition of Maverick’s favorite tune, Lavin says it’s unlikely.

Those people hoping to eavesdrop on the musical moment might have to move out of their armchairs and onto the wonder of Mount Diablo’s trails.

IF YOU GO WHAT: “Armchair tour” of Mount Diablo presented by the Greenbelt Alliance
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday, March 30
WHERE: Lafayette Library & Learning Center Arts and Science Discovery Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette

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