Opinion Columns & Blogs

Seedy types implement shady scheme

To say Lionel Johnston is a supporter of planting native oaks on the Central Coast would be an understatement. Devotee? Maybe. Fanatic? Warmer. Zealot? Indeed.

For the last 30 years or more, Johnston, a former metal worker who fabricated highway bridges, has been a virtual one-man band in his campaign to plant trees. His home is full of fledgling trees in pots of various sizes; his refrigerator is full of bags of acorns.

He refers to his planting mission as: “The Shady Proposition Carried Out by Seedy People.”

In his incarnation as a latter-day Johnny Appleseed, Johnston had led legions of like-minded people of all ages in planting or replanting denuded and erosion-creased hillsides. He doesn’t do it for the money, although donations toward buying plants, gopher baskets and tree tubes are always welcome.

No, he plants so that expensive man-made solutions like retaining walls won’t be used when a tree’s natural root system will do the job just as well at minimal cost.

His latest arboreal effort occurred Saturday, when he rallied 50 youths who, with shovels in hand, planted 100 native oaks, 50 bushes and 200 small ground cover plants at Avila Hot Springs. John King and the organization One Cool Earth helped underwrite the cost.

For the past 20 years, One Cool Earth and Johnston have annually planted the barren hillsides above Whale Rock Reservoir, which is the water source for Cayucos, Cal Poly, Camp San Luis Obispo, Cuesta College and the California Men’s Colony. This year’s Whale Rock planting, he told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, is set for Dec. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We’ve gathered 5,000 acorns from local oaks, and grown another 100 oak trees, for this year’s planting,” he said. The annual plantings help keep erosion of hillsides down while keeping subsequent sedimentation from reaching the drinking source. A third priority of the planting helps keep the reservoir’s Old Creek Road from expensive repairs due to erosion. As to his larger vision, Johnston is concerned about climate change.

“Our CO2 readings, worldwide, are going through the roof,” he said. “We are at a crucial tipping point now. We need to preserve every tree we have and plant major amounts of native and/or appropriate other vegetation until we can get our pollution under control.”

The Whale Rock planting Dec. 3 will take place about two miles inland from Highway 1 on Old Creek Road. Wear work clothes and pants with big pockets to carry the oak seeds. Bring a hoe or shovel as well as a small backpack for water and a snack. For more information, check onecoolearth.com or call Johnston at 801-0668.

If you can’t make the Whale Rock venture, you can become a member of the Shady Proposition if you seek out Johnston on Mondays through mid-December at the Baywood Farmers Market, where he’s giving away 300 Los Osos oaks.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.