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Hand holding earthworm

With gloved hands and trash bags, Oaklanders hit city’s creeks

on September 26, 2010

The bird sounds around Temescal Creek were drowned out Saturday morning by the chatter of the people who showed up to clean it–families, Boy and Girl Scouts, and school and church groups, all volunteering for the 15th annual Creek to Bay Day.

Prepared for a laborious day of pulling up weeds, the Temescal citizens’ crew dressed in tennis shoes, T-shirts and sweatpants. The natural creek, which originates in the Berkeley Hills and runs through North Oakland, was one of 28 sites cleaned up around the city by Creek to Bay Day volunteers Saturday.

The volunteers used tools and glove-covered hands to dig a clearing for the waterway and remove non-native plants. “If you get a big clump of mud on that, try to shake it out and keep in the creek,” said Temescal resident Lee Edwards to other volunteers as he piled a green patch from the creek and set it in a pile to be picked up. Children asked parents and nearby adults about the creek plants, picked up earthworms and pushed wheelbarrows full of plant waste.

man clears plant debris

Lee Edwards removes debris plants from the Temescal Creek waterway.

The Creek to Bay cleanup event takes place each year in conjunction with the International Coastal Cleanup Day, led by the Ocean Conservancy, a group that performs international environmental work and advocacy. The goal of the event is to identify the sources of trash and debris, whether it comes from litter or invasive non-native plants, and remove them from beaches and waterways.

Volunteer groups choose most of the sites, said Oakland Creek to Bay Day coordinator Bryn Samuel, an environmental resource analyst with Oakland Public Works Agency. Many of these groups, such as Friends of Sausal Creek, maintain the sites through out the year, Samuel said. The Sausal Creek group uses public education as well as growing and reintroducing native plants back into the creek area. “Basically, there’s a friends group for every creek,” she said.

The first thousand volunteers to arrive and sign up at one of the designated sites were each rewarded with a metal water bottle. The agency provided shovels, garden hoes, pitchforks and rakes for the participants. The local effort was funded by the Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and organized through the Oakland agency.

At the Temescal Creek site, near the Claremont Avenue Department of Motor Vehicles office, most of the 50- plus volunteers were parents and children who attend Civicorps Elementary School in North Oakland. One parent, Brian Rice, 43, came to the cleanup with his wife and two daughters, both students at Civicorps. This is the third year of their participation, he said. “They’re learning to be good stewards of the earth, and they’re putting their learning into practice,” Rice said.  “They have fun.”

Two miles south, a smaller and mostly adult group cleaned around Glen Echo Creek.  Volunteers carried trash bags and trash grab sticks to remove Styrofoam cups and cellophane wrappers from the roadsides that line the creek. Glen View resident Connie Kozlowski,  clad in a “Creek to Bay Day” T-shirt from the 2008 event, said she has been participating since 2005. She also cleans the area during Earth Day every spring. “This was my opportunity to make Oakland prettier,” she said. “It’s only three hours out of my day twice a year. The hard part is stopping at 12:00.”

Richmond Boulevard neighborhood resident John Gulino, 53, said this was his second year participating in the cleanup. “The creek is just so beautiful,” Gulino said. “I like to keep it at its best and I just love Oakland.”

Within the hours following event, the California Coastal Commission released preliminary results of statewide participation.  With 70 percent of sites reporting, the commission stated that this year’s event topped 73,000 volunteers. The reports also estimates that  692,203 pounds of trash was cleared away, as well as 59,228 pounds of recyclable materials, for a total of 751,431 pounds of debris taken from the state’s coasts and waterways.

Last year,  according to agency reports, 1500  Creek to Bay cleanup volunteers picked up more than two tons of trash from Oakland’s creeks, estuary and Lake Merritt, and removed 290 cubic yards of non-native green waste to allow native plants to flourish, the reports said.

At the Arroyo Viejo Creek site, at the entrance to the Oakland Zoo, a group of 30 volunteers–most of them teenagers from Bishop O’ Dowd and Oakland Tech high schools–battled invasive plants like poison hemlock. Dried leaves and branches snapped and crunched as workers moved them onto tarps. Zoo workers hauled the debris off on golf carts to be composted. Shauna Lavi, the zoo’s community programs manager, said the effort to maintain the creek site is ongoing. Coordinators with the zoo’s creek project host regular cleanups on the third Saturday of each month, she said. Creek to Bay Day was about “removing the non-native invasive plants, pulling out golf balls and plastic bags” for that site, Levi said.

Oakland Mayoral Candidate Jean Quan visited the zoo group just before the end of the cleanup. She handed out fliers about the Sausal Creek group as well as an upcoming plant sale at the Joaquin Miller Park Native Plant Nursery. “People who do Creek to Bay Day sometimes forget that a lot of groups have creek cleanups every month,” said Quan, outfitted in a red dress and green Jean Quan Mayor 2010 election buttons. “Creek to Bay Day can be any day of the week.”

In addition to friends’ groups the Oakland Public agency has a volunteer hot line that residents can call to inquire about volunteering to clean up creek areas, Samuel said.

Nina Fogel, a 16-year-old Oakland Tech student volunteering at the Oakland Zoo site, said that although she had been the zoo before, she had never been to the creek. “It’s actually pretty fun,” Fogel said. “I’m sweaty and covered with vines. But it actually feels good, like I’ve done something. I feel accomplished.”

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  1. Cheryl on September 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    With citizens cleaning up the creeks and Don Perata’s volunteers cleaning up the creeks Oakland is headed to a bright new future. Keep up the good work.

  2. Cheryl on September 26, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Oops Perata’s supporter cleaning up the streets.

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