January 25th is Save Mount Diablo co-founder Mary Bowerman’s birthday.
She left us all an incredible legacy.
Save Mount Diablo co-founder Dr. Mary Leolin “Leo” Bowerman spent more than 75 years of her life as a botanist and student of the flora of Mount Diablo. Few share the vision, grit, and determination Mary had. If it wasn’t for her, Mount Diablo would be vastly different than it is today.
Born in Toronto and educated in England, Mary traveled much of the world before falling in love with Mount Diablo. In the 1930s, Mary attended the University of California at Berkeley as a student of Willis Lynn Jepson, a famous botanist. Because Mary was the only botany student with a car, Jepson chose Mary to study Mount Diablo. “Little did I know,” Mary would later say, “65 years ago that my senior project would become my life’s work.”
By 1944, Mary published The Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mount Diablo: Their Distribution and Association into Plant Communities—a bible for botanists. Much of the book covers a fire that swept across 25,000 acres on the mountain in 1931, chronicling the return of certain plants.
Big fires frequently visited the mountain. After a fire swept through the mountain in 1977, there was an initiative to replant Mount Diablo. An outraged Mary gathered professors to explain how the mountain would restore itself, a battle that she won.
(Related: Watch our series, “The Diablo Range Revealed,” which explores the aftermath and recovery of the SCU Lightning Fire Complex)
In 1971, Mary Bowerman co-founded Save Mount Diablo with Art Bonwell. She also helped to found the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. Mary served as Vice President of Resources for Save Mount Diablo until 1995 and continued to serve on our Land Acquisition Committee until her death in 2005.
Within this time span, Save Mount Diablo expanded public land on Mount Diablo from 6,788 acres to more than 87,000 acres. Some of the places Mary helped to protect include North Peak, Mitchell Canyon, Back Creek, Donner Canyon, Sycamore Canyon, Pine Canyon, White Canyon, and Riggs Canyons; Blackhawk Ridge; the Black Hills; and Castle Rock.
Near the summit of Mount Diablo, you can find the Mary Bowerman Interpretive Trail, a popular trail that encircles the mountain. It was dedicated to her honor in 1982 and was renamed for her in 2007. Check out our recent blog post for more about the Mary Bowerman Interpretativ Trail!
Mary left a legacy that continues to inspire as Save Mount Diablo continues its mission of preserving open land on Mount Diablo, a mission that can all be traced back to the visionary, ambitious botanist—Dr. Mary Bowerman.