What the Environmental Stewards of Tomorrow Are Doing Today

by Kimra McAfee, Friends of Sausal Creek (FOSC)

As another school year ends, FOSC applauds the hundreds of young people who have volunteered with Friends of Sausal Creek this year. Thanks to partnerships with groups like buildOn, Civicorps, and Student Conservation Association, our weekend community workdays are well-populated and well-led. Beyond FOSC’s weekday environmental-education field trips, we partner with these organizations to work with kids in new and inspiring ways year round.

Finn Wurtz and Jorge Gomez pose following their pre-Earth Day workday site visit, unphased by the tree that fell into buildOn\'s adopted spot. On Earth Day, their crew of volunteers sawed off smaller branches to scatter around the site for habitat; the tree itself is a good addition to the site for decomposers. Photo by Megan Hess.

Last summer FOSC hosted a summer intern program for high school students. Eight students from Oakland and Piedmont volunteered for 14 hours a week for five weeks to work on special projects. They hiked to out-of-the-way spots to remove invasive plants and tended to propagation and maintenance needs at our native plant nursery in Joaquin Miller Park. When the school year started, buildOn summer interns Jorge Gomez (Skyline High School) and Finn Wurtz (Oakland Technical High School) jumped at the opportunity to share their new skills by becoming crew leaders.

Initially, Finn and Jorge focused their efforts at a spot that was adopted the previous school year by their buildOn predecessors. With the help of other buildOn students, they soon expanded the buildOn adopted work area. According to Jorge, “We have removed numerous invasive species and replaced them with native plants and trees like Garhey, the alder tree (we like to name the trees we plant and people loved to come back and see how they have grown). Next year I plan on coming back to keep leading crews and passing the knowledge I\'ve learned to them.”

Finn says, “I have led a succession of crews to a site along the creek where we have devastated a vicious monoculture of invasive blackberry bushes and planted a variety of native plants in their place. In a way, this site has become like another home to me, and I associate it with lively conversations, exciting discoveries, including a rodent skull, and gratifying accomplishments.”

On May 5, at buildOn’s end-of-year event in Dimond Park, FOSC expressed our appreciation for their efforts by naming Jorge and Finn FOSC Students of the Year. FOSC Restoration and Nursery Manager Megan Hess lauds the students, “Jorge and Finn are exceptional leaders. They take much care and pride in their work, and they are making great strides in improving Sausal Creek habitat. They’ve been an inspiration to all FOSCers who’ve worked with them.”

Dimond Park neighbors may have the opportunity to meet Jorge, Finn, and other buildOn students in coming months during our door-to-door stormwater pollution-prevention campaign. Thanks to funding from an Alameda Countywide Clean Water Program Community Stewardship Grant, this FOSC partnership with buildOn enables students to take the stormwater pollution-prevention message they learn in the field and sharpen their communications skills by sharing their knowledge with neighbors. Armed with their youthful energy and enthusiasm, plus literature that includes free California poppy seed packets (with tips on protecting your watershed), we hope the community will support these students in their growth as environmental stewards.

Kimra McAfee is the Executive Director of the Friends of Sausal Creek and can be reached at coordinator@sausalcreek.org, 501-3672. FOSC’s website is www.sausalcreek.org. For more information on buildOn, visit www.buildon.org.