My Volunteer Journal: Episode 10 – Creek Restoration with No Water, but Lots of Dirt

malibu-streamWhen you hear the phrases Stream Team and Creek Restoration you might assume you will be participating in a volunteer activity involving water – not so my dear ones – prepare instead for a day of gardening.

I arrived at Malibu Creek State Park at 9:00 am on a Sunday.  No friends joined me today as they all mysteriously lost their cell phones after I mentioned early morning Sunday volunteering. However the surroundings were lusciously green and the air was fresh (in LA a rare commodity) so the wake up was worth it.

I located my Heal the Bay group and squeezed into the crowd surrounding a Stream Team guide who was explaining our mission today.  The guide reminded me of my beloved Natural Resource Major roommates in college. I found my mind wandering back to their tales of licking rocks in class to determine what kind of rock they had in their hand.  I don’t know if their professors were anticipating them becoming blind from this work or if it is just easier to distinguish a rock by taste. As I stared at our guide’s hand knitted scull cap I could not help wondering how many rocks she had licked in school.  Then my somewhat erroneous thoughts were silenced when she took off her sweater and revealed arms that would make Madonna swoon.  “What the…!” I thought while scanning the ground for rocks to pick up and lick.

Today our mission was to rip up all the invasive non-native vegetation and replace it with native purple needle grass.  To make it clear the Stream Team pointed out the native plants – if it looked like a dead twig it was native and stayed. All the other plants and grasses had crept into the landscape care of hay bales many years ago.  Odd as it sounded, due to the fact that the native plants looked like kindling, the invader plants help fuel California’s huge fires when they shrivel in the dry season.  The non-natives also have shallow root systems that do not prevent runoff but do choke out the native species. This gardening is necessary for stream restoration because it protects valuable topsoil from running into the creek and the native plants provide food for local animal and insect species, which keep the ecosystem healthy.

We set about tearing up the naughty invasive plants. I quickly wormed my way into the Hermanas Unidas group, which was doing some of their community service hours. They were laughing and having so much fun talking about jobs, hopes for future travel, and classes that I wanted to join. We found many creepy crawlers in the grass and I pointed out an adorable tiny gray frog.

After the grass was torn up we started planting the purple needle grass, which is apparently very persnickety about how it lays in its hole. If the roots break it’s dead, if it’s buried to deep it suffocates, or if it’s not deep enough it dries out.  Thank goodness one of the girls was the daughter of a professional gardener or we might have killed off all the grass.

I’m definitely interested to see how our grass is doing in a few weeks.  Hopefully by the summer it will have grown into a big poof of vegetation (poof being a highly scientific term here – only the most precise language will do).  Next week I have been invited to do water sampling with Heal the Bay.  I’ll try not to fall in.