Weeders Wanted Saturday

Volunteer weeders at work in DAWN native plant area

Bob Huttar, Volunteer Coordinator of the Chavez Park Conservancy, will lead a group of volunteers on a mission to remove invasive weeds and some dead branches from the Native Plant Area, the forested grove on the west slope of the park that contains native plant communities. Please meet at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning Oct. 17 at the parking circle on the west end of Spinnaker Way. Bring masks, gloves and water. Vests will be supplied.

The Native Plant Area consists of 3.5 acres of brush and forest just north of the parking circle. It was planted in 1984-85 by members of Design Associates Working with Nature (DAWN), a nonprofit group of botanists, naturalists, ecologists, and native plant gardeners. Creating native plant communities in that location was a bold experiment. No one had ever tried to establish native plants on a former landfill on the California coast. Many were doubtful it could be done. DAWN members personally scoured the coast up and down collecting seeds from native plants, and obtained some seeds from collectors on California’s offshore islands. They built two greenhouses and set up a nursery where they sprouted and tended literally thousands of native plants, and then set them out. The soil was a random mix of construction dirt and unknown excavations, about as hostile to new growth as could be imagined. Weeds competed aggressively. The irrigation system was inadequate and unreliable. But with much loving effort, some of the native plants managed to thrive under those conditions. In two years of intense dawn-to-dusk labor, the DAWN planters established an ankle-high garden of native plants in abundant variety and glory. Then the area became the responsibility of the Berkeley Parks department. Parks had little sympathy for native plants at the time, preferring the kind of fast-growing exotics that line freeways. The native plant babies grew more or less on their own. The tall and verdant area today stands as a shining testimonial to the resilience and power of native Californians. But there are problems. Aggressive weeds, notably the noxious Kikuyu Grass, have marched deep into the area and laid siege to many a native shrub, threatening their existence. The Chavez Park Conservancy has applied for and won a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office for an expert study of the area and a proposal for restoration, but the current Parks director, Scott Ferris, has blocked the study. It may be some years before either the personnel or the policy toward native plants improves. Meanwhile, there is weeding. On several previous outings, volunteer teams led by Bob have done fabulous work putting down the Kikuyu grass around native bushes and giving them room to breathe and to bloom. This work makes a difference. If you want to participate, be at the parking circle at 9 am on Saturday October 17. Thank you.

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