Today I became one of the first park visitors in many years to walk the lower passage that runs north-south through the Native Plant Area, the forested grove on the west side of the park. Aerial maps show that this trail existed in the 1980s and early 90s, and was still visible in 2011, but in more recent years it was overgrown and impassable, with human-made obstacles added to the inroads of vegetation. Both the northern and the southern remnants of the passage terminated in jungle.
Landscape contractors working under the direction of Marina Gardening Supervisor Jacob Several had quite the job to open up this passage. Shrubs and trees on both sides, plus accumulated garbage, formed a dense barrier. It took a certain amount of bravery to venture into it, and some park visitors told me that they avoided the whole forested grove because of what might be lurking there.
I have to say, what the contractors have done here is an improvement. I hated the first part of the project, when they turned a pleasant single-file trail into a dirt road fit for trucks. They slashed native bushes. They cut down a dormant shrub that was not in the way and that formed a favorite perch for birds; I photographed five different species on its branches. That made me angry, as I posted earlier. But as the project moved on, I warmed to it. The workers did a good job removing broken branches and a dead tree that leaned dangerously over a footpath; these perils had been ignored for many months. They cleared several tangles of dead shrubbery where nothing could grow. They let in more light and air, making parts of the area more attractive to visitors. And the reopening of the lower passage is a big plus.
But there is more to do. The workers did not remove the stands of poison hemlock or the nasty Himalayan blackberry bush on the middle trail that is weak on berries but strong on thorns. The aggressive acacia bushes, better suited for freeway borders than parks, and the myoporum laetum trees with their poisonous pseudo-cherries, remain unchecked. A number of the native plants set out by the DAWN workers 35 years ago are at the end of their natural life spans and need replacement. Some areas have got completely overrun by exotic weeds and need clearing and replanting. The area, as much as ever, needs a careful look by experienced park restoration specialists with native plant expertise — precisely what your Chavez Park Conservancy has been advocating, with the $5000 backing of the UC Chancellor’s Community Fund. There is also room for more hands-on volunteer engagement, not only in weed removal, as we have been doing, but potentially also in replanting. Still, it’s good to see that this beautiful area, neglected for decades, is finally getting some attention.