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Please see the updated information below on the Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden (click here).

Mission Trail Nature Preserve / Park

Mission Trail Park, the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea's largest open space/park, was created in 1972 when the city purchased the Flanders property, including the Mansion, for $275,000.  The Flanders estate had been trying for some time to develop the 15 plus acres, but had been turned down three times by the city.  Tired of fighting, the estate gave up.  The city joined this property with the 17 1/2 acres it had purchased in 1971 from the Doolittle family for the below-market price of $120,000.  The agreement was that the property would not be developed and would remain parkland.  In fact the city council looked upon the joining of these two significant properties into a park that would be for Carmel what Golden Gate Park is to San Francisco.

The new Carmel park totaled over 33 acres, with five miles of trails laid out in 1972-3 by then-City Forester Greg D'Ambrosio.  He coordinated and supervised the Boy Scouts and young people from the High School Regional Occupational Class to create the trails.

There are five trails:  Flanders, Doolittle, Willow, Mesa and Serra.  The Serra Trail is the main trail for the park and the longest.  It is an historic path traveled by the padres, Portola and many others between the Carmel Mission and the Presidio in Monterey.  It is the only portion of the path that is not paved over and you can walk it today.

The park is naturally divided into two major regions, upper and lower.  The lower region, the old Doolittle property, is characterized by its riparian habitat, stream-fed, marsh-like environment.  The major drainage areas of Carmel flow down into the Nature Preserve/Park to create this very special environment, ending at Rio Road, which in the past formed a large lake in the winter and marsh in the summer and fall.  The important plants of this riparian habitat are the dense willows, blackberries, sycamores and redwoods, along with many other non-native plants introduced to the park by birds, wind and downhill drainage from Carmel gardens.

The lower end of the park by Rio Road, near the Mission and the mouth of the Carmel River, is an extraordinary area for "birding."  This area is on the Pacific Flyway and the Audubon Society does an annual bird count here every winter.

As visitors move north from Rio Road, they will notice some wonderful redwoods mixed with willows, sycamore trees, blackberry patches and lots of poison oak.  At the major redwood grove to the right of the Serra Trail, the largest redwoods were planted by Robert Doolittle in the 1940s.  The smaller redwoods and the bench, creating a very pleasant grove, were established in memory of former mayor Barney Laiolo.  Other redwoods planted along the trail and creek were planted by tree lovers over the years with the city's blessing.  Here we also see an extraordinary stand of beautiful native Monterey pines at the top of the hill.

The upper region of the Nature Preserve/Park is characterized by the Monterey pine/oak forest, especially on the east side of the main (Serra) trail.  Visitors will notice many non-native invasive plants taking over the trees, shrubs and undergrowth of the park, particularly on the west side, the stream side of the Serra Trail.  The cape and English ivy are most dangerous to the trees and native shrubs and they prevent the trees from rejuvenating.  Control of non-natives is a major issue and problem for the healthy life of the forest and long-term viability of the entire nature preserve.  In 1979 the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea recognized and designated this large park with its five unique habitats as a nature preserve for the preservation, enhancement and studying of our outstanding environment.

The Monterey pine is a truly native and unique species to only five areas in the world:  Ano Nuevo, Monterey County, Cambria in San Luis Obispo County and two tiny islands off of Baja California.  It provides the broad rounded canopy of large upper (story) trees in our county.  They are distinguished from the redwoods, which may be much taller, and redwoods have more pointed tops, short flat needles and tiny cones.  Monterey pines grow faster, however their height is limited as opposed to the highest redwood at 320 feet.

Monterey Pine


Half of our native forests in Monterey County have already vanished, lost due to disease, development and genetic contamination.  In Mission Trail Nature Preserve, our trees are also seriously compromised by disease and invasive plants (non-natives). 

There are many beautiful individual examples of these wonderful trees, so every once in a while as you walk through the park, look up to truly appreciate these graceful giants.  You will also see several groves along the Serra Trail as well.  The invasive plants are preventing the growth of replacement, new trees.  This is a very serious problem for the native upper canopy trees as well as for the lower canopy oaks.  You will particularly notice this as you hike to the upper region of the park (north) and look to the west.  The tall older pines are isolated and young pines almost non-existent.

The Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden and the Flanders Mansion are truly unique environmental and historic assets of the park and our Foundation enthusiastically encourages visitors to take advantage of these opportunities.

The Flanders Mansion - A Short History

The mansion was built by Paul and Grace Flanders, who came to Carmel from New York in 1923.  Paul Flanders was born in Chicago in 1890 and served as a captain in the U. S. Navy in World War I.  He and Grace purchased 80 acres from a friend of Mrs. Flanders, Dr. McDougal of the Carnegie Institute here in Carmel.  The couple subsequently purchased 233 additional acres from the Hatton Ranch Estate.  This land now is Hatton Fields.  Paul Flanders was intent on becoming a land developer.  He and his two partners established the Carmel Land Company and Paul Flanders became the President.

The couple selected noted and prominent Bay Area architect Henry Higby Gutterson to not only design their home and its gardens, but also to design and layout their proposed subdivision of Hatton Fields.  Gutterson was a U. C. Berkeley graduate in 1905 and also attended the famed L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris in 1906-1909.  He was associated with Ernst Baron and Bernard Maybeck (who designed the Carmel Library and other buildings), well known and respected architects of the Arts and Crafts School.  Gutterson worked primarily in San Francisco and the Berkeley/Oakland area, doing mostly residential design as well as some churches and civic buildings.  He was chosen for all of his special design skills which also included the famed St. Francis Woods subdivision in San Francisco, a totally new type of development for Northern California and just what Flanders and his partners wanted for Hatton Fields.

In 1924, the Flanders commenced work on their mansion, called "Outlands" due to its solitary location outside of downtown above what is now Mountain View and Forest Streets at the top of the hill accessed by a small bridge over the creek.  The mansion, 8000 square feet on huge grounds/acreage was in stark contrast to the small beach lots of artists, professors and other escapees who arrived at the turn of the century through the 1920s.  The Tudor Revival, English Cottage mansion includes seven bedrooms, five baths, lovely living room and dining room with fireplaces and teak floors, all designed in the Arts and Crafts style of the time.

The mansion was completed in 1925 at a cost of $17,500.  The basic materials for the home were of the new thermolite block, an innovative block created locally, which was is fireproof and very seismic resistant as well.  The tile roof was made by Gladdy McBean, Berkeley style tiles.  These are still being manufactured.

The Flanders mansion is one of only two properties in Carmel listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the other is the old Sunset School.  Flanders has not been modified in any way to compromise its historicity, unlike Sunset.  The National Register designation granted in 1996 to Flanders in based on several significant historic attributes.  First, Henry Higby Gutterson is a major Northern California Arts and Crafts architect.  The design of the mansion, in the Tudor Revival, English Cottage style, is the prototype for buildings in downtown Carmel as well as the Flanders' Hatton Fields subdivision.  The innovative material of thermolite block was so important for its fire and seismic protective qualities in the Bay Area and at Flanders.  Lastly, Gutterson's work on the St. Francis Wood subdivision, a totally new concept of land development in Northern California, was brought here to Carmel.

Grace and Paul Flanders loved to entertain in their new home and were a lively part of the Carmel scene.  Grace, born in 1881 in Minnesota, was well educated and loved music, live theater and the arts in general.  It is even acknowledged that she had some hand in the design of the mansion.  She gave it her special name of "Outlands."  She and Paul Flanders had only one child, Barry, who died at age 11 very unhappily.  While he was alive, Grace was very involved in the P. T. A.

With the U.S. entry into World War II, Paul Flanders re-enlisted in the Navy.  This time he was an expert on mines due to the extreme concern and worry about attacks on the west coast that would compromise and potentially hurt the War effort in the Pacific by closing the entrance to San Francisco Bay.  Mr. Flanders spent much time in San Francisco at Treasure Island and in Washington, all in an effort to ensure the free flow of goods, arms and men from the San Francisco/Oakland ports to the Pacific War Theater.  In 1944 Paul Flanders suffered a major heart attack and died in Washington, DC.  He never saw his beloved Flanders and Carmel again.  Grace lived on at Flanders until 1967, in generally very poor health much of the time.

Upon her death, the estate tried three times to obtain a city approval for its development plans without success.  Finally, in 1972 the estate sold the 15 acres around the mansion to the city of Carmel for $275,000.  This land plus the 17 acres from the Doolittle family were combined to form Mission Trail Park and later renamed Mission Trail Nature Preserve.  Between 1976 and 1995 the mansion was used by the Carmel Art Institute, Carmel Heritage Society, Carmel's Historic Survey Committee and for ten years by the Arboretum Committee like all of the other public venues.  In the mid 1990s the Alliance on Aging held an enormously successful Design Showcase fundraiser and the mansion was open to the public for its great enjoyment.  There were no cars permitted, only a shuttle service, to protect the neighborhood and for traffic safety.  Even with the hundreds of people in attendance over several days, there were no complaints about the event, which of course demonstrates that if properly planned and executed, Flanders mansion and its immediate grounds can be used for the great enjoyment of residents and visitors alike.

In 1996, after much work by local preservationists, Flanders was placed on the Carmel Register of Historic Places, completing its overall historic recognition by the national, state and local Registers of Historic Places.

Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden

A big thank you to Les Rowntree, grandson of Lester Rowntree, for providing the following information!  For more information about Lester Rowntree, email him at rowntree@berkeley.edu.

The Lester Rowntree Native Plant Garden was created to display native plants, shrubs, and trees suitable for cultivated gardens and landscaping in coastal California. This garden enhances the natural beauty of the local setting while maintaining its quiet woodland character. After passing through the ornamental gate from Hatton Road, designed and forged by local artists, Annette Corcoran and John Hudson, on your right is a birdbath garden that attracts a variety of birds in all seasons.

Although just over an acre, the Garden contains a great variety of California native plants. Mature trees and shrubs are the backbone, with annuals, perennials, bulbs, and succulents displaying in spring and early summer. Over 100 plant labels inform visitors about the Garden's diverse flora. A special bulb garden brightens the paths toward the Flanders mansion. This area honors Elsa Uppman Knoll, renowned horticulturalist, author, and editor at Sunset Magazine, who volunteered her time and expertise to create this special area.

In any season visitors can enjoy beautiful vistas towards the Carmel Mission and Point Lobos. Numerous benches and easy walking trails add to the pleasure of this tranquil garden. (see Flanders Foundation photo gallery)

The garden is named after Lester Gertrude Ellen Rowntree, a pioneering native plant naturalist, author, photographer, and lecturer who lived in the Carmel Highlands from 1923 to her death in 1979, several days after her 100th birthday.

The Garden was created in 1980 by her son, Cedric, his wife, Harriette, with funds and volunteer help from the local chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Lester was a co-founder of the California Native Plant Society in 1965 and served as its honorary president until her passing.

Lester's Carmel Highlands garden was a testing ground for the native plants and seeds she collected during half a century of fieldwork throughout California. Two books written during the 1930s, Hardy Californians, and Flowering Shrubs of California remain classics in the field, with the former being recently republished by the University of California (to see the book at UC Press, cut and paste the following URL into your browser address bar:  http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520250512).


Home | Foundation History | Mission Statement | Vision Statement | Park and Mansion History

Activities | Environmental & Legal Issues | Act Now | Community Support | Photo Gallery

Flanders Foundation
P.O. Box 1414
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921