Bringing Nathanson Creek back to life
TEN-YEAR-OLD Jordan Salmonsen of Sonoma, picks up trash and non-native weeds Saturday during a workday at the Nathanson Creek Preserve.
About 15 years ago, Nathanson Creek was a wild tangle of trash, blackberries and other invasive plants that had all but choked out the natural habitat of the waterway that runs along the bike path behind Sonoma Valley High School. On June 9, the Sonoma Ecology Center celebrated the large-scale restoration work that has brought the creek back to its former glory with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly completed Native Plant Demonstration Garden, on the corner of East MacArthur Street and Second Street East.
"We did it to show how human use of land can be compatible with the native fish and wildlife and environment," said Mark Newhouser, restoration manager at the ecology center, who has been active in the Nathanson Creek Preserve project for more than a decade.
Nearly 75 guests attended the ribbon cutting, where Sonoma Mayor Laurie Gallian spoke along with other stakeholders in the project. One of those speakers was Paul Cristopolous, whose late wife, Christy Vreeland, was the catalyst for launching the Nathanson Creek Task Force in the 1990s, inspiring the restoration of the land.
"We dedicated the project to her to honor her work," Newhouser said.
The Demonstration Garden is the most recent addition to the Nathanson Creek Preserve, offering insight to the many types of foliage that can be planted to enhance the natural environment. Using land donated by the city, the ecology center planted more than 2,700 plants representing 75 species to showcase the natural landscapes that exist in Sonoma County.
"It's pretty neat because it represents the seven different plant communities you find throughout the waterways," Newhouser said, explaining that the plant communities include native oaks, grasslands and more. "It helps to know which plant community you live in, so you know what to plant on your land."
Over the years, the ecology center spent countless hours working with various stakeholders including the City of Sonoma and the Sonoma County Open Space Preservation District to secure the rights to maintain the land through a legal memorandum of understanding.
After obtaining numerous grants over the years, from sources ranging from the State Department of Forestry to the Coastal Conservancy, the center has been able to purchase thousands of native plants and provide funds for staff to oversee volunteer workdays to remove trash and invasive species.
Since launching the effort, the ecology center has hosted dozens of volunteer workdays, removing thousands of pounds of trash, including enough car parts to nearly reassemble a vehicle, shopping carts, rolls of carpet and more plastic bags than you can imagine.
The ecology center has also worked to make the land more user friendly, installing benches and garbage cans complete with doggy bags for those who walk the path with their pooches.
Volunteers, working under the supervision of ecology center staff, have also been instrumental at removing the non-native species such as blackberries, acacia trees and eucalyptus, which make it difficult for native species to flourish, disrupting the ecology of the creek.
The ecology center has used the Sonoma Garden Park to grow oaks and native roses from seedlings found along the creek, which have been planted along the creek to replace the invasive species that were removed.
"We're basically widening the riparian zone," Newhouser said, adding that almost all the work was done with the help of volunteers. "It's really been a huge community effort."
Marti Murray is one community member who has not only been involved herself, working as a Nathanson Creek Steward to teach others about the preservation effort, but she has also shared the experience with the next generation. As a leader in both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, Murray helps bring the youth groups to workdays to learn about the importance of being good stewards of the environment.
"It empowers them to become good citizens of their community," she said, adding that the environmental message they learn on the creek carries over in other aspects of life. "They're really practicing to leave no trace. When you see litter, you pick it up. They realize, 'I am an environmental hero, I feel good about this.'"
Newhouser and Murray agree the creek restoration project has been a useful tool to teach youth groups about the importance of preservation.
Students from the high school, specifically the Earth Club, along with Enviro-leader interns from the ecology center and the residents of Hanna Boys Center have all spent time pitching in at the creek. Many Sonoma teachers have used the space as a classroom to teach about waterways.
"The faculty is very supportive, they give a lot of extra credit (to students who volunteer at the creek)" Murray said. "It's really educating them. They learn what is an invasive species? How does it affect the environment?"
Newhouser said the effort to restore and preserve Nathanson Creek are ongoing, as the ecology center works to further develop the natural habitat of the creek.
"What we really need is the community to help us," he said, adding that help can come in donations of time during workdays or money to fund center staff time.
The ecology center will be hosting a native plant nursery workday on Saturday, July 9, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Sonoma Garden Park, 19990 Seventh St. E., where volunteers are needed to help propagate native plants to be replanted in restoration zones. To reserve a spot, contact Megan Fitzsimmons at 996-0712, ext. 102.
On Saturday, July 16, the center will host a workday on Nathanson Creek behind the high school to weed and remove trash. To reserve a spot, call Connor Ross at 996-0712, ext. 102.
To learn about more upcoming workdays or to donate, visit www.sonomaecologycenter.org or call 996-0712.