Healing Nature

Unused dirt road across Nature Area on north side of park, October 2021

The meadow on the north side of the park is a “Protected Natural Area.” That’s by the authority of Berkeley City Council in 1998-1999. People and dogs are not allowed there, on or off leash. There’s a minimum $100 fine for violations. Such is the law. See the sign, left.

However, years ago Parks department maintenance trucks cut a dirt road through the Nature Area. The dirt road served as a shortcut to access a couple of the trash barrels in the dog park (“Off Leash Area”) that begins up the ridge above the Nature Area. This dirt road effectively cut the Nature Area in two. It also created an open invitation to people and their dogs to cut across the Nature Area as if this were normal and OK. After all, if there’s a road, you must be OK to use it, no?

Then in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit, a Parks contractor built a much-needed fence to separate the dog park from the Nature Area. (See “Fence Done,” March 23 2020.) The fence isn’t perfect. It is too short on the west side, and it has an inappropriate gap in it, but it reduced the invasion of off-leash dogs and their owners into the Nature Area. That’s particularly important because the Nature Area in recent years has been the preferred roosting site for the rare Burrowing Owls that visit the park in the winter season. The owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and it’s a federal crime to disturb, harass, or harm them. Other bird species have been seen nesting in this area. The fence, despite its incompleteness and its incomprehensible gap, has helped.

The fence has also made the old dirt road useless. It’s become a bridge to nowhere. Park maintenance trucks now use the graveled access road to the west, outside the border of the Nature Area. Accordingly, it’s time for this scar across the Nature Area to heal. The old dirt road needs to revert to nature.

To speed that healing process, the Chavez Park Conservancy and the UC “Berkeley Project” organization are teaming up on Saturday Nov. 6 to plant native seeds on the road bed. The surface is somewhat packed, but the recent rains have softened it up. We will use hoes and cultivators to scratch shallow furrows. We’ll insert the seeds and then cover them up, and let nature do its thing. We’ll put up signage to advise park visitors that the area is newly seeded and to ask their cooperation for the habitat restoration project.

The Conservancy will treat the student volunteers, expected to number about 8 or 10, to a lunch of sandwiches. Parks landscape gardening supervisor Jacob Several has given the green light for the project. Student leader Alondra Aguilar will organize the student volunteers. Conservancy leaders Jutta Burger and Bob Huttar, and senior native plant consultant Dave Kaplow have provided advice on the types of seed and methods of planting.

This project is the second time the Conservancy has teamed up with Berkeley Project. In October 2019, a group of Cal volunteers planted wildflowers on a patch of bare soil in the southeast corner of the park. See “Seeds of Beauty,” Oct. 26 2019. This brought a striking and colorful display of wildflowers the following spring. Some of the flowers emerged again last fall and others are still blooming in the area at this time.

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2 thoughts on “Healing Nature

  • Pingback: Ghosting a Road

  • Good job taking care of Berkeley’s gem! And thanks for keeping us informed.

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