While teaching at UCLA in the 1960s, UC Professor Ken Norris envisioned a university-owned natural land system to support the work of faculty, students and researchers. Out of this vision and years of personal work and dedication by Ken and his colleagues, Mildred Mathias, Bill Mayhew, and Bob Norris, the UC-wide Natural Reserve System (NRS) was formed in 1965. Today the NRS system includes 33 reserves totaling over 120,000 acres, making it the largest and most diverse system of its kind.

While teaching at UCSC in the 1970s and 80s, Ken and his students surveyed the entire 4000 acres of the campus and detailed the natural communities available here. Then they went to work to negotiate a system of reserve parcels that would provide students and researchers with protected places to work.

The idea of an on-campus reserve at UCSC was not a new one. In 1963, prior to the opening of the UCSC campus, Professor Stanley Cain proposed a teaching reserve containing all important vegetation types associated with the region. Recommendations for the establishment of a reserve system on-campus continued every several years including Robert Twiss’ in 1965, the 1971 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), the 1978 LRDP, in 1981, in 1983, until the Campus Natural Reserve was formally established by the 1988 LRDP and then later modified by the 2005 LRDP.

Norris and his students dedicated years of research, surveying and classifying the natural resources in order to provide UCSC with an on-campus collection of, in Norris’ own words, “outdoor laboratories” or “classrooms without walls” which add to the importance and uniqueness of the UCSC campus.