Where Those Trees Came From

Part of forested grove created by DAWN

On the west side of the park, just north of the lawn beside the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way, stands a dense grove of trees and bushes, the only forested area in the whole 90 acres. We owe that leafy refuge to DAWN — Design Associates Working with Nature, a hardy band of native plant enthusiasts who created it in the early 1980s. Thanks to David Kaplow, one of the DAWN participants, we now have three newly discovered foundational readings about the amazing DAWN project.

Kaplow had just finished graduate school at UC Berkeley when he joined DAWN in an unprecedented eco-making effort: establishing native plant communities in a randomly assembled landscape atop a municipal dump in the Bay. It had never been done before. Nobody knew whether it could be done. Some thought it was impossible. But the intrepid DAWN crew threw themselves into it.

They were, besides young Kaplow, the veteran native plant researcher and park manager David Amme; Charli Danielsen, the experienced native plant nursery expert and activist; Erik van Lennep, a landscape consultant and lecturer; Dennis Rogers, a landscape designer and contractor; and Jan Strahan, a Ph.D. in plant ecology and student of Prof. Joe R. McBride. The City of Berkeley gave them a contract to plant natives in the first subsection of the park to be finished and closed as a landfill, the western slope north of the parking circle. The California Coastal Conservancy contributed money, as did some private benefactors.

When the DAWN team went to work, streams of dump trucks still chugged past the plant nursery on their way to unload in the northern parts of the area. Members of the Rainbow Village, an early homeless encampment sanctioned by the City, jumped over the nursery fence to see whether DAWN was growing marijuana (they weren’t). Along with the nursery DAWN constructed a geodesic dome for a greenhouse. Members scoured the coast up and down to collect wild plant seeds and cuttings. They grew them, or tried to, in thousands of containers ranging from test tube size to gallon pots. They analyzed the site, which was overgrown with weeds and unsuccessful earlier plantings. The soil was mostly terrible: a random mix of excavated dirt from local construction sites, heavy with clay, pressed down hard by dump bulldozers. The weather featured drought in summer, storms with salt spray in winter, and an almost constant westerly wind. Hardly ideal conditions. But they persisted. Kaplow recalls that he and some others worked from daybreak to nightfall, and earned less than the minimum wage. This was a work of passion and conviction.

Kaplow is the last member of the DAWN company still active and working locally. He runs Eco-Management, a natural area consulting firm, and Pacific Open Space, a native planning and installation firm, both in Petaluma. Thankfully, Kaplow kept his files from the DAWN project. We will be publishing all relevant material here on chavezpark.org as it becomes available. Today, three new PDF publications are featured:

(1) Restoration of Coastal Ecology and Landfill, by David Kaplow, published in Four Seasons journal Vol. 7 No. 3 (Dec. 1985). A seven-page introduction to the DAWN project published a year after it ended.

(2) DAWN – Design Associates Working with Nature. A 25-page introduction to the organization’s vision and capabilities, undated, but probably 1984-85.

(3) Coastal Landscapes: A Case Study and Guidelines for Design and Maintenance of Native Plant Landscapes in Shoreline Parks, by Design Associates Working with Nature, Dec. 20 1985, An 80-page booklet containing a fairly detailed narrative of the DAWN work followed by lessons learned and recommendations, with extensive references.

These items will stand alongside the recently republished article by David Amme. More are expected.

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