Point Reyes National Seashore

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Point Reyes National Seashore
IUCN category V (protected landscape/seascape)
Chimney Rock Trail Point Reyes December 2016 panorama 1.jpg
Headlands of the Point Reyes Peninsula from Chimney Rock, looking north.
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Location Marin County, California, United States
Nearest city Point Reyes Station, California
Coordinates 38°4′N122°53′W / 38.067°N 122.883°W / 38.067; -122.883 Coordinates: 38°4′N122°53′W / 38.067°N 122.883°W / 38.067; -122.883 [1]
Area71,028 acres (287.44 km2) [2]
EstablishedSeptember 13, 1962
Visitors2,412,663(in 2012) [3]
Governing body National Park Service
Website Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a 71,028-acre (287.44 km2) park preserve located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, California. As a national seashore, it is maintained by the US National Park Service as an important nature preserve. Some existing agricultural uses are allowed to continue within the park. Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. All of the park's beaches were listed as the cleanest in the state in 2010. [4]



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Point Reyes National Seashore

The Point Reyes peninsula is a well defined area, geologically separated from the rest of Marin County and almost all of the continental United States by a rift zone of the San Andreas Fault, [5] about half of which is sunk below sea level and forms Tomales Bay. As the geology of the peninsula is very different from the east shore of Tomales Bay (it is part of the Salinian Block as opposed to the Franciscan Complex), there is a difference in soils and therefore a noticeable difference in vegetation.

The small town of Point Reyes Station, while not located on the peninsula, provides most services to it. Some services are also available at Inverness on the west shore of Tomales Bay. The small town of Olema, about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Point Reyes Station, serves as the gateway to the Seashore and its visitor center.

The peninsula includes wild coastal beaches and headlands, estuaries, and uplands. Parts of the park are private farms and ranches which have commercial cattle grazing. These were leased back when the park was purchased to continue these historic uses. [6] Other parts are under the jurisdiction of other conservation authorities with the National Park Service provides signage and manages visitor impact on the entire peninsula and Tomales Bay. The Seashore also administers the parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation area, such as the Olema Valley, that are adjacent to the Seashore. [7]

Wildlife and ecology

Point Reyes National Seashore lies at the convergence of two marine ecological provinces (southern Oregonian and northern Californian) and harbors 45% of North America's bird species and 18% of California's plant species. The National Seashore's 100 miles (160 km) of coastline include estuaries, bays and lagoons which provide rich habitats including subtidal seagrasses, tidal mudflats and marshes that support a rich diversity of wildlife. [8]


Tule Elk at Tomales Point Tupeelkpointreyes.jpg
Tule Elk at Tomales Point

The northernmost part of the peninsula is maintained as a reserve for tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes), an elk subspecies historically native to the region. Elk are readily seen there. [9] Although they had been completely extirpated from Point Reyes by the nineteenth century, in 1978, ten tule elk were reintroduced to Point Reyes from the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos. [10] By 2009, the population climbed to over 440 elk at Tomales Point's 2,600 acres of coastal scrub and grasslands. In 1999, 100 elk from Tomales Point were moved to the Limantour wilderness area of the Seashore and above Drakes Beach to Ranch A, as that ranch's long-term lease expired and was not renewed. [11] The drought in 2012-2015 was also a threat to the elk confined north of the fence on Tomales Point, with nearly half the elk there dying from lack of water. In 2012 there were 540 elk, then only 357 in 2013, and by 2014 only 286. [12] In August and September 2020, drought and wildfires again threaten the Tomales Point elk, leading some conservationists to illegally bring water to the elk north of the fence. [13]

The preserve is also very rich in raptors and shorebirds. [5]

The Point Reyes Lighthouse attracts whale-watchers looking for the gray whale migrating south in mid-January and north in mid-March.

A colony of elephant seals usually congregate on Chimney Beach, which is protected by 100-foot (30 m) cliffs. In January 2019, during the federal government shutdown, park rangers were not working and the seals colonized and had pups on Drakes Beach, and its parking lot. [14] [15] Small-group tours to view the seals from the edge of the parking lot began the following month after the shutdown ended. [16]


Point Reyes lies within the California interior chaparral and woodlands ecoregion.

In his book The Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula, Jules Evens identifies several plant communities. One of the most prominent is the Coastal Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) forest, which includes Coast live oak, Tanoak, and California bay and reaches across the southern half of Inverness Ridge toward Bolinas Lagoon. Unlogged parts of this Douglas-fir forest contain trees over 300 years old and up to 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter. But despite these large, old trees, the forest may nevertheless be a result of European settlement. The Coast Miwok people who once lived in the area set frequent fires to clear brush and increase game animal populations, and early explorers' accounts describe the hills as bare and grassy. But as the Native American settlements were replaced by European ones from the seventeenth century onward, the forests expanded as fire frequency decreased, resulting in the forests we see today. [17]

The Bishop pine (Pinus muricata) forest is found on slopes in the northern half of the park. Many of these trees growing in thick swaths came from seeds released after the 1995 Mt. Vision fire.

Salt, brackish, and freshwater marshlands are found adjacent to Drakes Estero and Abbotts Lagoon. The other communities identified by Evens are the coastal strand, dominated by European beach grass ( Ammophila arenaria ), ice plant (Carprobrotus edulis, also called sea fig or Hottentot fig), sea rocket (Cakile maritima) and other species that thrive on the immediate coast; northern coastal prairie, found on a narrow strip just inland from the coastal strand that includes some native grasses; coastal rangeland, the area still grazed by the cattle from the peninsula's remaining working ranches; [18] northern coastal scrub, dominated by coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis); and the intertidal and subtidal plant communities.

Point Reyes is home to the only known population of the endangered Sonoma spineflower, Chorizanthe valida . [19]


Extremely high levels of fecal coliform bacteria ( Escherichia coli ) concentrations have been documented in streams adjacent to existing dairy operations. Cattle manure spreading areas are correlated with the increased presence of invasive and noxious weed species. Tomales Bay, Drakes Estero and Abbotts Lagoon are all affected by E. coli discharges from cattle operations in rainy winter months. [8]


Fog rolling in from the Pacific at Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes Fog.JPG
Fog rolling in from the Pacific at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation totals in mm
Source: [20]

Landmarks and facilities

View to the southeast from Chimney Rock Trail Chimney Rock Trail Point Reyes December 2016 panorama 2.jpg
View to the southeast from Chimney Rock Trail

The Point Reyes Lifeboat Station is a National Historic Landmark. It is the last remaining example of a rail launched lifeboat station that was common on the Pacific coast.

Nova Albion, Francis Drake's 1579 campsite; Sebastião Rodrigues Soromenho's 1595 wreck; and fifteen associated Native American sites are included in the Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District National Historic Landmark. This encompasses 5,965 acres (24.14 km2) along the coast of Drakes Bay. [21]

Kule Loklo, a recreated Coast Miwok village, is a short walk from the visitor center.

Lairds Landing was the site of a wharf on the southwest shore of Tomales Bay. [22] It was named after ranchers, Charles and George Laird, who leased the site in 1858 to transport supplies and produce across the bay. [22] The location was settled by the Felix family around 1861, a family of Filipino and Miwok heritage. [23] After the descendants of the Felix family left in 1955, the land was zoned for development, then made part of the Point Reyes National Seashore, before becoming home to artist Clayton Lewis. [24] In 2015, structures built by the Felix family were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. [25]

More than 30,000 acres (120 km2) of the Point Reyes National Seashore are designated as the Phillip Burton Wilderness, named in honor of California Congressman Phillip Burton, who wrote the legislation creating the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was instrumental in helping to pass the California Wilderness Act of 1984.

The Point Reyes National Seashore attracts 2.5 million visitors annually. Hostelling International USA (part of Hostelling International) maintains a 45-bed youth hostel at the Seashore. [26]

The Point Reyes National Seashore Association, formed in 1964, collaborates with the Seashore on maintenance, restoration and educational projects. [27]


A group of people gathered to watch the sunset at Point Reyes National Seashore. Ptreyessunset.jpg
A group of people gathered to watch the sunset at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Point Reyes has a system of hiking trails for dayhiking and backpacking. Bear Valley Trail is the most popular hike in the park. It travels mostly streamside through a shaded, fern-laden canyon, breaking out at Divide Meadow before heading downward to the coast, where it emerges at Arch Rock. A portion of Arch Rock collapsed on 21 March 2015, killing one person. [28]

A US National Geodetic Survey marker at the peak of Mt. Wittenberg, the highest point in the park. U-S- National Geodetic Survey marker Mt- Wittenberg 2014-03-25 00-56.jpg
A US National Geodetic Survey marker at the peak of Mt. Wittenberg, the highest point in the park.

Three trails connecting from the west with the Bear Valley trail head upward toward Mt. Wittenberg, at 1,407 feet (429 m), the highest point in the park. [5] The Earthquake Trail, a 0.6-mile (0.97 km) loop that runs over the San Andreas Fault. The trail provides descriptions of the fault and the surrounding geology, and features a fence that was pulled 18 feet (5.5 m) apart during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. [29]

At the western end of the Point Reyes Peninsula is the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, reached by descending 308 steps. Unlike many lighthouses, that were built high so the light could be seen by ships far out to sea, the Point Reyes lighthouse was built low to get the light below the fog that is so prevalent in the area. Nearby is the short Chimney Rock hike, which is noted for its spring wildflower displays. [5]

Point Reyes offers several beach walks. Limantour Spit winds up on a narrow sandy beach, from which Drakes Beach can be glimpsed across Drakes Bay. North Beach and South Beach are often windswept and wave-pounded. Ocean vistas from higher ground can be seen from the Tomales Point Trail and, to the south, from the Palomarin trailhead at the park's southern entrance outside the town of Bolinas.

For backpackers, Point Reyes has four hike-in campgrounds available by reservation.

Point Reyes is a terminus of the American Discovery Trail which is the only transcontinental trail in the United States. [30]

Marine Protected Areas

Point Reyes State Marine Reserve & Point Reyes State Marine Conservation Area, Estero de Limantour State Marine Reserve & Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area and Duxbury Reef State Marine Conservation Area adjoin Point Reyes National Seashore. These marine protected areas help conserve ocean wildlife and marine ecosystems.

Management issues

Oyster farm

A large shellfish farm raising Japanese (kumamoto) oysters, Crassostrea gigas , was located in Drakes Estero until, under court order, it closed down at end of 2014. Court appeals to keep the operation in place were dropped in December, 2014. [31]

The farm was purchased by the National Park Service in 1972, and the agency issued a permit to allow the previous owner to continue operations for 40 years. The business was sold to a new owner in 2004, the Drakes Bay Oyster Company, who was informed by the NPS at the time of purchase that their permit to operate would not be renewed beyond the November 30, 2012 expiration date. [32] A federal law enacted in 2009 authorized, but did not require, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to renew the permit. [33] The NPS and conservation groups viewed the farm as an inappropriate and environmentally-insensitive use of the estero, which was designated a "potential wilderness area" by Congress. The farm's supporters argued that it was not ecologically harmful and was important to the local economy. [33] [34]

Point Reyes National Shoreline 2018 Point Reyes National Shoreline.jpg
Point Reyes National Shoreline 2018

On November 29, 2012, Salazar announced that he would not renew the permit, citing the original intent of the Point Reyes Wilderness Act to designate the area as wilderness upon the removal of the oyster farm. [32] Salazar visited the farm the previous week and later personally phoned the farm's owner to give him the news. [35]

The oyster farm closure was challenged in U.S. District Court on January 25, 2013. [36] The challenge was rejected by a federal court judge, who ruled that the law gave Salazar unfettered discretion to approve or deny a renewal of the permit. [37] The California Coastal Commission voted on February 7, 2013 to unanimously approve cease and desist and restoration orders for violations of the California Coastal Act. [38] The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected an appeal of the district court's decision, ruling on Sept. 3, 2013 that the oyster farm's owner had not shown a likelihood of success on the merits because Salazar had acted within his discretion in denying the permit. [39] An attempt to have the appeals court rehear the case was rejected on January 14, 2014 and a petition to the United States Supreme Court [40] was denied on June 30, 2014. [41] The oyster farm closed its on site retail operation on July 31, 2014. [42] [43] However, controversy continued over the condition of the estero sea floor and the ongoing off shore operations. [44] Another lawsuit challenging the closure itself was rejected in September 2014. [45] [46]

The work to remove the offshore racks and onshore buildings was completed in May 2017; 1,700 tonnes (1,700 long tons; 1,900 short tons) of debris had been hauled away. The estero is part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness. [47] [48]

See also

Related Research Articles

Marin County, California County in California, United States

Marin County is located in the northwestern part of the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California. As of the 2010 census, the population was 252,409. Its county seat is San Rafael. Marin County is across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and is included in the San Francisco–Oakland–Berkeley, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Inverness, California census-designated place in California, United States

Inverness is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) located in western Marin County, California. Inverness is located on the southwest shore of Tomales Bay 3.5 miles northwest of Point Reyes Station, at an elevation of 43 feet. In the 2010 census, the population was 1,304. The community is named after Inverness, Scotland and was named by a Scottish landowner.

Point Reyes Station, California Census-designated place in California, United States

Point Reyes Station is a small unincorporated town located in western Marin County, California. Point Reyes Station is located 13 miles (21 km) south-southeast of Tomales, at an elevation of 39 feet (12 m). Point Reyes Station is located along State Route 1 and is a gateway to the Point Reyes National Seashore, an extremely popular national preserve. About 350 people live in the town. It is also the name of a census-designated place (CDP) in northern California covering the unincorporated town and surrounding countryside, with a total CDP population of 848.

Coast Miwok Tribe of Native American people

Coast Miwok are an indigenous people that was the second-largest group of Miwok people. Coast Miwok inhabited the general area of modern Marin County and southern Sonoma County in Northern California, from the Golden Gate north to Duncans Point and eastward to Sonoma Creek. Coast Miwok included the Bodega Bay Miwok, from authenticated Miwok villages around Bodega Bay, and the Marin Miwok.

Drakes Bay United States historic place

Drakes Bay is a 4 mi (6.4 km) wide bay named so by U.S. surveyor George Davidson in 1875 along the Point Reyes National Seashore on the coast of northern California in the United States, approximately 30 mi (48 km) northwest of San Francisco at approximately 38 degrees north latitude. The bay is approximately 8 mi (13 km) wide. It is formed on the lee side of the coastal current by Point Reyes. The bay is named after Sir Francis Drake and has long been considered Drake's most likely landing spot on the west coast of North America during his circumnavigation of the world by sea in 1579. An alternative name for this bay is Puerto De Los Reyes.

Drakes Estero

Drakes Estero is an expansive estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore of Marin County on the Pacific coast of northern California in the United States, approximately 25 miles (40 km) northwest of San Francisco.

Point Reyes

Point Reyes (re-ʝes) is a prominent cape and popular Northern California tourist destination on the Pacific coast. It is located in Marin County, and approximately 30 miles (50 km) west-northwest of San Francisco. The term is often applied to the Point Reyes Peninsula, the region bounded by Tomales Bay on the northeast and Bolinas Lagoon on the southeast. The headland is protected as part of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Tomales Bay

Tomales Bay is a long, narrow inlet of the Pacific Ocean in Marin County in northern California in the United States. It is approximately 15 mi (24 km) long and averages nearly 1.0 mi (1.6 km) wide, effectively separating the Point Reyes Peninsula from the mainland of Marin County. It is located approximately 30 mi (48 km) northwest of San Francisco. The bay forms the eastern boundary of Point Reyes National Seashore. Tomales Bay is recognized for protection by the California Bays and Estuaries Policy. On its northern end, it opens out onto Bodega Bay, which shelters it from the direct current of the Pacific. The bay is formed along a submerged portion of the San Andreas Fault.

Bodega Bay United States historic place

Bodega Bay is a shallow, rocky inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the coast of northern California in the United States. It is approximately 5 mi (8 km) across and is located approximately 40 mi (60 km) northwest of San Francisco and 20 mi (32 km) west of Santa Rosa. The bay straddles the boundary between Sonoma County to the north and Marin County to the south. The bay is a marine habitat used for navigation, recreation, and commercial and sport fishing.

Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve

The Golden Gate Biosphere is a biosphere reserve in Northern California. It was created by UNESCO in 1988 and encompasses 13 protected areas in the San Francisco Bay Area. It extends through the central California coastal region from the Bodega Marine Reserve in the north to Jasper Ridge in the south and includes the Farallon Islands, Angel Island, and Alcatraz within the San Francisco Bay. The biosphere reserve is situated on both sides of the San Andreas Fault. Each side has a completely different type of bedrock, and the western side of the rift is moving northward. It encompasses a diverse range of marine, coastal, and upland habitats of the California chaparral and woodlands and Northern California coastal forests ecoregions, including mixed evergreen forests, Coast Redwood forests, Douglas-fir forests, Bishop pine forests, oak forests, woodlands and savannas, northern coastal scrub, chaparral, coastal dune, coastal strand, tidepools, kelp forests, coastal grasslands, and marshes. The associated fauna is also rich with cougars, Tule elk, California sea lions, elephant seals, and many shorebirds.

Tomales Bay State Park

Tomales Bay State Park is a California state park in Marin County, California. It consists of approximately 2,000 acres (8 km²) divided between two areas, one on the west side of Tomales Bay and the other on the east side. The main area, on the west, is part of the Point Reyes peninsula, and adjacent to Point Reyes National Seashore, which is operated by the U.S. National Park Service. The park is approximately 40 miles (64 km) north of San Francisco.

Marshall, California Unincorporated community in California, United States

Marshall is an unincorporated community in Marin County, California. It is located on the northeast shore of Tomales Bay 6 mi (9.7 km) south of Tomales, at an elevation of 25 ft (7.6 m).

Tule elk Subspecies of mammal

The tule elk is a subspecies of elk found only in California, ranging from the grasslands and marshlands of the Central Valley to the grassy hills on the coast. The subspecies name derives from the tule, a species of sedge native to freshwater marshes on which the Tule elk feeds. When the Europeans first arrived, an estimated 500,000 tule elk roamed these regions, but by 1870 they were thought to be extirpated. However, in 1874–1875 a single breeding pair was discovered in the tule marshes of Buena Vista Lake in the southern San Joaquin Valley. Conservation measures were taken to protect the species in the 1970s. Today, the wild population exceeds 4,000. Tule elk can reliably be found in Carrizo Plain National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, portions of the Owens Valley from Lone Pine to Bishop, on Coyote Ridge in Santa Clara Valley, San Jose, California and in the Pacheco state park and areas surrounding San Luis reservoir near Los Banos, California.

Phillip Burton Wilderness

The Phillip Burton Wilderness is part of the 111 sq. mile (288 km2) Point Reyes National Seashore located about 20 miles (32 km) northeast of San Francisco, California. Total wilderness land is 33,373 acres which includes a roadless "potential wilderness" area of over 8,000 acres (32 km2) and is one of only three designated wilderness along the California coast, the others being the King Range Wilderness and the Rocks and Islands Wilderness. The National Park Service manages the wilderness.

L. Martin Griffin

L. Martin Griffin, widely known as Marty Griffin, is an American environmentalist and conservationist in Northern California and author of the book Saving the Marin–Sonoma Coast. He has also been a doctor, director of the Sonoma Developmental Center, head of the Marin Audubon Society, board member of the Marin Municipal Water District, and owner of Hop Kiln Winery in Sonoma County.

Estero de Limantour State Marine Reserve & Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area

Estero de Limantour State Marine Reserve (SMR) and Drakes Estero State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA) are two adjoining marine protected areas along the Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County on California’s north central coast. These marine protected areas cover a combined 4.04 square miles (10.5 km2), with 1.49 square miles (3.9 km2) in the SMR and 2.55 square miles (6.6 km2) in the SMCA. Drakes Estero SMCA prohibits the take of all living marine resources from Drakes Estero except the recreational take of clams and formerly the commercial aquaculture of shellfish pursuant to a disputed state water bottom lease and permit, which has been the subject of ongoing legal proceedings since 2012, when the lease was allowed to expire.

Tomales Point Headland in California, United States

Tomales Point is the North-Western tip of Point Reyes Peninsula. Bodega Bay is to the North, Tomales Bay is to the East, and the Pacific Ocean is to the West. The point is accessible only via a 9.5 mile hike along Tomales Point Trail. The region is home to a tule elk population.

Drakes Bay Oyster Company

Drakes Bay Oyster Company was an oyster farm and restaurant formerly located at the shoreline and in Drakes Estero at 38°04'57.3"N 122°55'55.0"W, a bay within Point Reyes National Seashore, on the West Marin coast of Marin County, in Northern California. In 2011, the lease for the business operation was not renewed at the direction of the United States Secretary of the Interior. After a two-year court battle, the business was terminated in December 2014, and Drakes Estero was cleared of the offshore racks and onshore structures, with the work completed in 2017.

Pelican Lake (Marin County, California)

Pelican Lake is a small lake in the southern portion of the Point Reyes National Seashore, northwest of Bolinas. The lake sits at an elevation of 203 feet (62 m) and has an outflow via the short Pelican Lake Creek southwest through a notch in the coastal cliffs onto Double Point's Bolsa Beach. Pelican Lake is one of the five Coast Trail Lakes, along with Bass Lake, Crystal Lake, Ocean Lake and Wildcat Lake. Alamere Falls is about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to the northwest.

Camp Hydle Former United States Navy Base

Camp Hydle also called Drakes Bay Range was a large training center during World War II, located at Drakes Bay, on what is now Point Reyes National Seashore on the coast of northern California in the United States. The camp had several training sites: Camp Hydle, Drakes Bay Air to Ground Gunnery Range, Drakes Bay Dive Bombing Target, Camp Murphy's Ranch, Camp Hydle Maneuver Area, and Camp Hydle Skip and Dive Bombing Range. Also at the camp were landing craft training and air sea rescue training. The site was 10,532 acres of Marin County, California land on the West Coast of the United States. The complete area from Stinson Beach to the south and Dillon Beach to the north was called the Point Reyes Gunnery Range at Point Reyes. The Gunnery Range also included: two radar towers, horse stable, two lifeboat Stations, the Point Reyes Lighthouse, lookout towers, and land strafing targets (rake). The dive bomber airplanes came from Hamilton Army Airfield (AAF), Santa Rosa Army Airfield (AAF), and Naval Air Station Alameda (NAS). In addition to Drakes Bay the planes also training using the nearby Abbotts Lagoon, and Tomales Bay. The landing craft training used Limantour Beach and Limantour Spit. Anti-aircraft gun training was important training for the Pacific War. Camp Hydle base was inland 1/2 mile east of Limantour Beach. For gunner training planes towed targets across Drakes Bay. Ships also trained at the base, like the USS Walton and USS Nevada (BB-36). The Navy's Camp Hydle took over the Point Reyes Lifeboat Station during the war. The 50 men at the Station were air sea rescue pilots, dropping rafts to plane crew that landed in the ocean during training. The first troops arrived at the site on December 7, 1941. The site was also used as a coast defense spot, looking out for Japanese subs and ships. Most of the land was leased from Leland Murphy, after the war in 1962, the site became Point Reyes National Seashore.


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