This past weekend I joined dozens of other volunteers to help improve Joaquin Miller Park. The event was organized by Volunteers for Outdoor California (V-O-Cal), along with the Friends of Sausal Creek and the city of Oakland parks and rec department. There was also a large contingent from the Bicycle Trails Coalition of the East Bay there to work on the trails. V-O-Cal does park improvement projects all over northern California, from the coast to the western Sierra. This project appealed to me because it was a chance to help improve Oakland's largest park, but also a chance to camp there, which isn't normally allowed**.
Volunteers could work Saturday, Sunday or both days, and were allowed to camp Friday and Saturday nights. I elected to stay both nights and work both days to see and do as much as possible. After getting camp set up near the Fire Circle on Friday evening, some of us joined city of Oakland naturalist Stephanie Benavidez for a short walk to hear about the history of Joaquin Miller and the park that bears his name. It's hard to believe now, but when he lived there in the late 1800s, it was relatively barren after the redwoods were logged. Today it's covered in a variety of trees, many of which he planted.
Saturday morning after registration and breakfast, we heard a bit about V-O-Cal and about what we'd be working on, as well as some words of thanks from Oakland parks and rec director Audree Jones-Taylor. Then we broke up into crews of about 10 people each and received a brief safety talk and explanation of the tools we'd be using.
The most common tools for trail maintenance and creation are also some of the most common for fighting wildland fires. First up is the McLeod, a combination heavy duty rake and hoe tool named after ranger Malcolm McLeod. It's great for clearing organic matter for a new trail (or a fire break), as well as clearing loose dirt. Also named for a ranger is the Pulaski, named for ranger Ed Pulaski, US Forest Service ranger, 1910. It's a small adze on one side and an axe on the other. It's good for digging into soil, chopping small roots and branches, and making small adjustments to the tread of a trail. For digging larger amounts or prying up stones, the pickmatic is frequently used. It has a pick on one side and a large adze on the other. There were shovels, too, but the only time I saw one used was when we were trying to dig out an old fence post.
Crews were assigned a section of the Bishops Walk trail in the lower part of the park. Some sections were just widening and smoothing the trail, but other sections were rerouted and involved building a whole new trail. The most difficult of those required building a retaining wall to support a switchback. I was on the crew that was at the top of the trail near Lookout Point. Our section wasn't too difficult, widening the trail and adding some drainage dips, but we also removed the remains of a fence near the lookout and picked up buckets full of bottles and broken glass. Another crew spent the day building a fence near the headwaters of the creek to protect a restoration area.
On Sunday morning, most crews went to a different trail to begin maintenance work. The switchback crew went back to work, and I joined a crew that did touch up work on various areas along Bishops Walk. It was a shorter work day, which was good for those of us not used to using some of the muscles involved.
All in all, it was tiring and dirty, but a lot of fun. Part of why it was fun was because everything was very well organized. Thanks to all the crew leaders, and special thanks to the volunteer project team: Project Team Leader: Morris Older Technical: Woody Collins Kitchen: Lila, Rachel Outreach: Trina Hudson Camp Operations: June Nakatani, Joe Lovelace
We ate well, had fun in camp at the end of the work day, and got to hang out with a lot of friendly, interesting people. I'll definitely sign up for more V-O-Cal events in the future. The next one is in Golden Gate Park in August. You have to work hard, and bring your own camping gear, but it's a chance to camp for free while you're working to make Bay Area parks better.