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What are you doing for Earth Day?: Discovering the Beauty in Clearing A Creek Bed for the Future!

Article by:  Laura Tull

Summary: Volunteering for Earth Day/ Week can not only help the environment, but can educate, preserve history, and memories for the future.

This past Weekend groups of eco friendly individuals gathered in New York, Boston, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles to partake in various volunteer activities to help the planet.  This was all under the umbrella of the Green Apple Music Festival1 and each city offered different activities and a free concert of music for all volunteers.  I chose to spend my weekend helping to clear debris from Griffith Park’s Fern Dell Park Creek bed and in the process hopefully restore the water flow and help hydrate the fauna of the area, including about 50 species of Fern.

My particular event was co-sponsored by the non-profit City Year.  The organization stands for the concept that “young people can change the world” and they seek to have a year of service be an expectation of every young person. I would agree, however in the true spirit of being an American, I believe it should be a matter of free choice.   That is the opinion of this writer though, and others are free to disagree.  Some like myself, have goals for our lives that include service activities we chose to partake in, and I highly encourage all to give back.

The day started with the members of City Year’s corps taking the volunteers through a series of warm up exercises, nothing strenuous.  We were then informed by the Park Head Gardner Mark what was expected of us for the day.  Our focus would be the creek bed, removing debris and broken branches.  We were told we would be given gloves, a shovel or rake, and bags.  We needed to rake up leaves and pull up any weeds in the creek beds and along the sides of the creek walls.  Once the bags were full we would place them so they could be trucked out.

Next a representative of the Green Apple Festival, Jordan, announced the volunteer Music concert would be held at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood and the main musical guest would be one Cary Brothers.2

We ended this part of the day with what the City Year reps called a Spirit Break.  We gathered in a huddle, like before a sports game, but without the throwing of the hands.  We simple touched our hands in a circle, or the shoulder of the person in front of us, and said: “CYLA Powerful Service. Huh!  Be the change!”  We were divided into groups of about 6 to 8 and told to get our equipment and our team leader would let us know where to go.  My group was called Ubuntu, which means “humanity to others,” or also “'I am what I am because of who we all are.”3

I was expecting to plant trees, but instead we ended up clearing out a system of partially man made canals in order to hopefully restore a creek that used to flow not that long ago through the park.  I found pictures on line taken in 2007 showing the area we cleared filled with water. See endnote.  4 As you can see from the pictures, the area was very lush and green with many ferns.  Ferns are a seedless vascular plant, meaning that they have a system for circulating water and minerals that is composed of a vascular system, kind of like our veins.  For more information see Wikipedia. 5

Until I saw the photos of how the park used to be,  I wondered how I was helping the environment by clearing this creek.  Looking around at how the park looks now, the vegetation below the trees is not nearly as thick.  Though the creek bed had patches of green, which we removed to allow for the free flow of water, the ground below the trees along the creek bed were far from lush.  The area is in desperate need for the water to flow again.  According to the Head Gardener, the water comes from a natural aqueduct, and they believe that once they clear the creek bed and the opening to the spring, the water will once more flow.

I also learned some interesting things this weekend about Los Angeles water.  At the Green Apple Music Festival, Boise Thomas, the host of Planet Green’s “Alter Ego,” an environmentally focused lifestyle show, gave away gift bags at the event. One of the trivial questions he asked was how long the Los Angeles River is.  According to Thomas, the answer is 51 miles.  What was particularly interesting though was his description of the history of the river.  Apparently at one point the river flooded Compton, so it was filled with concrete and now Los Angeles loses allot of its water to run off.  To correct this, their is a proposal to replace the concrete with a cistern system to collect water for reuse.6

(On a side note: At the concert the Green Apple Festival had a man dressed in plastic bags.  Your average consumer uses 500 plastic bags per year.  The “monster” gave out reusable bags by chicobag that fit in a pouch you can put in a pocket or purse.)

How does the concrete Los Angeles River compare to the Creek at Griffith Park?  Well the designers of the Creek get an A from me.  I am not an expert in how to make a creek bed and I recognize that the less we alter nature sometimes the better.  In the case of Fern Dell Creek, the floors of the creek are either dirt or natural rock.  There were areas where some pipes were placed to allow the water to flow from one rock lined basin into a channel below.  The creek walls were lined with primarily natural rock hewn by man.  For the most part the designers appeared to take what was already in nature just to create some order to the flow of the water.

By helping to clear the creek bed, I was not only helping to water a natural garden, but also helping preserve history.  As of last year, Fern Dell Park, and all of Griffith Park were nominated to be given Historic-Cultural Monument Status.7  Part of the area is a Gabrielino Indian site.8 The bridge on the road leading to the park goes over part of the creek and was built in 1923.9 I also found an article on line that tells a story of how someone remembers catching crayfish at Fern Dell and how the author’s parents got engaged there in 1958.10 I helped preserve the environment, history, and memories.

Thus my earth weekend adventure turned into a lesson of the importance of water, and that some ways of man controlling its flow are better than others.  I also saw that we always have hope to make positive change for a better tomorrow, but it takes people making the free choice to make the effort.  As to planting trees, the leader of my group found a tiny plant growing out of  what looked like a walnut.  It was a little tree.  I gave it to the head Gardner who told me he would see if he could save it to grow.

1. “The Green Apple Festival: America’s Largest Earth Day Celebration.” http://www.greenapplefestival.com
2. http://www.myspace.com/carybrothers
3. Ubunto.  Also the name of a new computer operating system. http://www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu
4. http://outdoors.webshots.com/album/561575171ESdZJj
5. “Fern.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fern#Fern_ecology
6. Gabe Ramirez.  “Cisterns save rainwater, quench environmental thirst.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/17/gsif.rainwater.solutions/index.html
7. Los Angeles Improvement Association. “Griffith's Family Launches Move to Preserve Griffith Park” http://www.lfia.org/news/GPHCM5-08.shtml
8. For information on the Indian site see: http://bigorangelandmarks.blogspot.com/2008/02/no-112-gabrielino-indian-site.html
9. David Kimbrough “Fern Dell Drive over Fern Dell Creek” http://bridgehunter.com/ca/los-angeles/53C1164
10. The 64 Greatest Things About LA. http://www.lamag.com/LAtoZ/article.aspx?id=1618&page=5

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