Tagging Invasives in Wildcat Canyon

by PaHoua Lee

The work has begun! Each morning we pick up crew members in downtown Richmond, California, and drive to our first location at Wildcat Canyon Regional Park. With easy access to 2500 acres, this area is a popular place for residents interested in day hikes and barbequing.

Our mornings are blanketed with overcast skies and the slightest hint of a breeze. The parking lot is empty, the field is ours for the moment, and the perfect way to begin the workday is by playing a game of Tag! This gets our blood flowing, forces us to interact with one another, and breaks boundaries by reminding youth that it is still possible to laugh and play even as they mature and become professionals. We are starting to establish daily rituals to create unity in the group, which is necessary in constructing a space where youth feel safe and accepted. Participating in tag is also a healthy reminder that work can be, and is indeed, FUN!

But once all fun and games are over with, nonnative plant removal is quite a demanding task. Although the work itself is easy considering we are using weed wrenches, we are also hiking up a steep hill where there seems to be a boundless supply of nonnative plants. The work is repetitive, navigating the hillside is challenging, and it’s difficult for some to stay positive when they are surrounded by poison oak.

Fortunately we have hard working crew members such as Arwinder Singh. Arwinder is excited to leave for the Air Force in August. He is taking this summer opportunity with the Student Conservation Association to prepare himself for the hard work that will be required of him while in the Air Force. So far, Arwinder is proving to be a strong role model. He joins in on games, provides thoughtful insight in conversations, and he seems genuinely challenged. “The work is harder than I expected,” Arwinder shared after the first day. “My legs are already sore, but it’s good. I think it’s going to be a good summer.”

My hope is that this work will help prepare youth for the work force once their service with the SCA is over. I hold high expectations for the crew members; timeliness, professional behavior and appearance, and quality work are matters I’m keeping an eye on. Arwinder’s comment helps remind the crew that hard work is rewarding, especially with the immediate results of removing nonnative plants.