by Ariana Chiapella
It is truly amazing how much work a group of motivated, enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers can achieve in just a few short hours. On June 29, my site partner Michael Paccassi and I organized a salmonid habitat enhancement event along San Geronimo Creek. This project, called an Individual Service Project (ISP) in AmeriCorps lingo, was a requirement during our term of service with the Watershed Stewards Project (WSP). On paper, this event seemed like only a small piece of our mandated work for the ten months we’ve spent at MMWD, but in reality it was a perfect snapshot representation of everything we have done throughout our time here.
The majority of our work has been “stream restoration,” which at the water district includes spawner surveys, smolt trapping, snorkel surveys, analysis of engineered woody debris habitat, and the ensuing data entry. As a result, we in a way have been inducted into the fragile lives of the endangered coho salmon and have formed an intimate relationship with all of the factors that they depend on for survival. Consequently, the work our volunteers completed during our ISP was directly related to these important aspects of a salmonid’s habitat.
Another large piece of our required work has been community outreach and education. We developed and taught a six-week curriculum to third and fifth graders at a Title One school. The lessons were based in environmental science and included the relationships between watersheds, the water cycle, fish biology and human activity. The key messages of this curriculum were also shared at multiple outreach and community volunteer events throughout the year.
The skills we gained by engaging with the public and communicating WSP’s mission were crucial in our recruitment of over 30 volunteers for the San Geronimo Creek project. Of course it certainly helped to already have so many dedicated MMWD volunteers! We were so excited to see such a strong community turnout at the event. In addition to some familiar friendly faces from other MMWD volunteer events, we also had a great turnout of new volunteers.
The landowners’ property that we worked on was the perfect fit for a volunteer project such as this, not only because of the manageable projects it presented, but because it showed community members how they can make a difference on their own properties and most importantly because of the graciousness of our hosts.
We all banded together to tackle the invasive plants that were growing throughout the riparian corridor and squelching the vital native species that contribute to the habitat that salmonids need for survival. After eradicating the vinca, cape ivy, English ivy, Japanese knotweed and others, our group replanted the entire riparian area with fast-growing native trees, shrubs and perennial plants that, if all goes well, will take hold and restore the biodiversity needed for complex habitat and stable, non-eroding stream banks.
Thanks to a donation from Good Earth for breakfast, lunch from MMWD, and cookies and watermelon from the landowners, our volunteers were rightfully rewarded for their hard work. We could not have asked for a better group of volunteers!
In all honesty, I at first doubted the point of an ISP at the beginning of the WSP term. It seemed so unrelated to the overarching basis of our work here in MMWD’s Fisheries Department. In retrospect, it encompassed everything: endangered species protection, community outreach and education. Not only were we working to improve riparian habitat for the benefit of the coho salmon and steelhead trout, but we were doing so through community organization and action. These principles are laced within WSP’s mission, and we strongly believe that they also will be carried with anyone who has been involved with our program during the past ten months, whether through our education curriculum, field surveys or volunteer events.