Photo by Brighton Aerial

Before the names of Santa Cruz and the San Lorenzo River, the village along the river where it met the ocean was called “Aulintak” by the Awaswas-speaking Uypi tribe. Archeological evidence found at Aulintak indicates that the site was inhabited for 2,000 years before it was colonized by the Spanish in the late 1700’s. Actively stewarding and managing the land and river, the Uypi conducted controlled burns in the area and collected sustenance by fishing steelhead and salmon from the river, trapping fauna and gathering shellfish, among many other techniques. And from these shellfish, this place got its name, “Aulintak”, meaning the place of the red abalone.

red abalone

A red abalone depicted in the mural designed by Irene Juarez O’Connnell

Today, those who live where Aulintak once stood are honoring the name of this place by incorporating it into a new neighborhood storm drain mural in Poet’s Park located in the heart of the Beach Flats neighborhood. This summer, artist Irene Juarez O’Connell, in partnership with 62 youth and 37 adult Beach Flats residents and the Coastal Watershed Council teamed up to design and install the mural. The idea was to use public art to increase community awareness of this neighborhood’s connection to the river and the opportunity to steward the river. The project was a huge success. As quoted by Choose Santa Cruz, Irene said, “Art stirs our imagination and enables us to understand what a healthy, thriving river could look like. By envisioning this future, we can feel inspired to caretake not just the storm drain but also the water that flows through it and the land it nourishes.”

Through a series of community design activities throughout June and July 2021, residents shared their ideas for a new mural surrounding a storm drain that empties directly into the river. Using this community input, Irene designed a beautiful mural depicting the river and the species that call it home including common merganser, western pond turtle, monarch butterflies, steelhead trout and more. Written in the river itself, is the name “Aunlintak,” honoring this place and the people who called it home for millennia. And in August 2021, kids and adults picked up their paintbrushes and helped to install this new mural, visible to all in Poet’s Park adjacent to the park’s playground and picnic area, the Tree of Life sculpture and Beach Flats Community Garden.

Aulintak Painting

A huge thank you to Irene Juarez O’Connell for her tremendous work on this project, including her amazing collaboration and community building as she incorporated ideas and feedback from Beach Flats residents and the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. Your exemplary work inspires us all. This project was possible because of the support of the Santa Cruz City Arts Program, City of Santa Cruz Public Works Stormwater Program, the City of Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation Department, Arts Council Santa Cruz County and the Mellam Family Foundation. We also thank Nueva Vista Community Resources who partnered with CWC to incorporate the mural design activities into the Watershed Rangers days at Summer Fun camp, which were supported by the Adams Legacy Foundation and The Moca Foundation. Check out the mural whenever you can. 

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