Toad Hollow - Tunnel for Toad Traffic
If you weren't looking for it, you'd probably never spot Toad Hollow. Its wood-carved sign and handful of miniature buildings are often shaded by trees along the highway, just beyond a busy bridge overpass. It's on an odd sliver of property next to the post office. But when it comes to saving the lives of uncounted toads, one can't be picky about location.
Toad Hollow is in the spot where the local amphibian population was faced with certain death to cross a new six-lane highway after it cut them off from their ancestral wetlands. The highway was slated to replace a dirt road, where toad comings and goings were well-known by locals. A civic controversy ensued, and wildlife fans demanded a solution to protect the Davis toads.
The city finally agreed, and in 1995 spent $14,000 to construct toad access tunnels (there are several) funneling northbound and southbound toads to and from the wetlands. It's also called the "Frog Tunnel" by some, though dry-skinned, warty toads are the principle inhabitants in Davis.
The story was recounted in 1999 in a children's book, The Toads of Davis, a Saga of a Small Town by local author and artist Ted Puntillo Sr. Ted built the cluster of tiny buildings in Toad Hollow, and painted images of cartoon toads in the windows.
The Toad Hollow tunnel entrance looks like a typical drainage pipe. An abstract toad sculpture stands to one side, with a flat, lid-like head. The tunnel appears to be about a foot wide, with a little crossbar at the entrance (perhaps to deter pranksters with bowling balls?).
Across the highway of carnage is a newer, human-scale building. As best as we could determine, the tunnel exits near a small business called Outdoor Kids. The two women running the store that day had no idea what we were talking about, and pointed back across the street to the post office. We prowled around behind their building, and looking through a tall fence, could see the exit pipe for the toad expressway, dumping out into the wetlands area -- the Core Area Drainage Pond.
Continuing development and commercial build-up in the area has probably done more to squash toads than speeding cars. And the tunnel itself may claim its share of victims. According to news accounts, the tunnels were shunned at first by the toads until the city went back and had them electrically lit. Then the accumulated heat from the lamps killed some toads. And for the survivors, toad-loving birds waited at the exit to greet them.
So maybe the toads use the tunnels, and maybe not. For a wildlife preservation project, it's one of the silliest we've seen (on par with the Nutty Narrows Squirrel Bridge) -- and worthy of a quick stop.
Nov. 2009: The buildings of Toad Hollow have been painted green and augmented with rooftop solar panels. A sign proclaims: "Toads Going Green." The tiny outhouse has been re-purposed -- perhaps now a compost shanty? This environmentally trendy decorating tactic makes it much harder to criticize the failed toad tunnel....