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Volunteers Plant Trees, Seeds of Hope : Environment: Restoration of a creek bed in Newbury Park draws 150 from around Southern California to work and commune with nature.

November 20, 1994|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For environmentalists and nature enthusiasts, attempting to restore abused land to its natural habitat is a time-honored mission.

But Saturday's restoration project at Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa in Newbury Park provided a new experience for some of the 150 volunteers who soiled their hands planting coyote bush, coast live oak and other native species along a meandering dry creek bed.

For 13-year-old Daryle Germany, taking part in the National Park Service's Potrero Creek restoration effort was his first trip away from the tumult and congestion of Los Angeles.

The meadowlike site inside the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area proved to be an eye-opening change of venue for Daryle and his 21 Roosevelt High School classmates, who made the early morning trip north from Boyle Heights.

"No honking horns, no sirens," Daryle said. "This is clean dirt. You should see the dirt back home."

The students were part of the park service's first attempt to restore riparian habitat--land adjacent to a stream or river--inside the Santa Monica Mountains park.

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The open space, which is encircled by grassy, rolling hills, has been robbed of its natural state after centuries of ranching and farming practices.

"Ultimately, it is our hope to restore the area to what it was before the Europeans arrived here around 1750," said Jim Benedict, the park service's chief of resource management for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Centuries ago, Benedict said, the banks of the Potrero Creek were lined with tall sycamore and black walnut trees and a rich undergrowth, which included wild rose and sage brush, elderberry bushes and wild rye.

On Saturday, to help the park service meet its restoration goals, volunteers began arriving at the site about 8:30 a.m. A crisp breeze had many wearing sweat shirts and light jackets.

Participants got to work quickly, and soon the shape of the dry creek bed was made noticeable from a distance as a human chain outlined its banks.

The small army of volunteers sank saplings and young bushes into pre-made holes along a one-third-mile stretch of the creek. Large buckets of water were hustled back and forth from a spigot to provide the plants a first drink in their new digs.

For many of the participants, Saturday's event was a continuation of their desire to help heal the earth. Many of the volunteers were members of the Beverly Hills-based TreePeople, which donated 600 plants and provided shovels, wheelbarrows and other tools for the day's work. Local nurseries and private donors gave about 450 additional plants.

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Chris Howell, 31, a seven-year TreePeople volunteer, traveled from Hermosa Beach to lend a hand.

"I always enjoy coming back in a couple years to the sites and seeing the growth and the progress," he said.

Others were members of the L.A.-based Rhapsody in Green environmental organization, a few Boy Scouts and members of the Riordan Leadership Development Program, a training group for service organization leaders.

Husband and wife Bob McCoy and LeAnn Walters walked to the site from their home nearby to take part in the restoration.

They hauled with them a tiny, 5-year-old oak tree. McCoy said he raised and nurtured the tree from a single acorn he had found in a parking lot.

"We're planting this tree as a memorial to my mother," Walters said. Walters said her mother was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. "It will grow as she fades," she said.

Besides the renewal of native habitat, park service officials said the Potrero Creek restoration efforts will provide valuable information for future projects.

The restoration plan will serve as a kind of test site, said Rose Rumball-Peter, a natural resource specialist with the National Park Service who drafted the Potrero Creek Restoration Plan.

Park rangers will study the use of fertilizer and an irrigation drip line for about two years. But it will take far longer to determine the ultimate success of the project, Rumball-Peter said.

"We won't know for 50 to 100 years if this was actually a success," she said. "But we'll be learning a lot from this project."

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