AmeriCorps team spends month restoring habitats in SLO County

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMarch 15, 2014 

A team of 10 young adults with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps is finishing up a monthlong posting this week to San Luis Obispo County, where they have helped with several environmental restoration projects.

On a recent morning, the 10 AmeriCorps workers along with 10 California Conservation Corps members spread out on Cal Poly land along Walters Creek, a stream near the San Luis Obispo Sportsmen’s Association shooting range between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay.

They were planting 2,000 native plant seedlings along the creek as part of an erosion control effort begun in 2007. Sediment from Walters Creek has historically found its way to Chorro Creek and eventually the Morro Bay estuary, where it causes a variety of environmental problems.

“This is an awesome place, but it definitely needs some loving care,” said AmeriCorps member Elizabeth Bailey of East Brunswick, N.J., as she lowered a black sage seedling into a hole she had dug.

Other native species planted at the site included toyon, coyote brush, sticky monkey flower as well as oak trees and cottonwoods.

In coming decades, these plants will transform the site from a windblown pastureland to a thriving creek corridor suitable for steelhead trout and other rare and sensitive wildlife species, said Meredith Hardy, a fish habitat specialist with the California Conservation Corps.

“It’s been a labor of love,” she said. “This project won’t just benefit steelhead, it will also reduce sedimentation into Chorro Creek.”

Environmental problems along Walters Creek began during World War II, when the area was turned into a Camp San Luis Obispo firing range. The crew regularly unearthed spent bullets as they plant the seedlings, Bailey explained. Five roads and culverts were built across Walters Creek that have failed during the intervening decades, dumping tons of sediment into the creek.

Restoring the creek has been a long-term project for the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, said Adrienne Harris, the program’s executive director. Having a team of skilled workers such as the AmeriCorps team is a crucial asset in getting these kinds of projects done.

“It’s great to be able to tap into this resource,” Harris said.

AmeriCorps takes young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 and assigns them for 10 months to one of five campuses across the nation. The team assigned to San Luis Obispo County was working out of the Pacific Region campus in Sacramento, said team leader Ryan Verstraete.

All 10 of Verstraete’s team are from the Midwest or East Coast. Verstraete hails from Michigan. All are interested in careers in environment-related fields.

While in San Luis Obispo County, the team also did environmental restoration at Montaña de Oro State Park along the popular bluff trail and removed invasive plant species at Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area.

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