Today we speak with Randy Smith, a co-coordinator of Redding’s Annual Community Cleanup that took place Oct. 3. The turn-out was massive, and so were the results.
Q: Randy Smith, first, congratulations on your 10th year as a co-coordinator of the annual Community Clean-Up event in Redding. Can you summarize this year’s clean-up that took place Oct. 3 along the Sacramento River?
The say the 10th Annual CCCU event was a huge success would be a serious understatement. Hundreds of volunteers, including city park staff, using everything from their hands to seven giant chipping machines, restored a riparian savanna along the Sacramento River which had been missing since the building of Shasta Dam.
Many community groups and individuals numbering more than 500 reclaimed in four hours what decades of non-native plant intrusion had encumbered along the North Sacramento River Trail from Carter Creek to Harlan Drive.
Several giant piles of wood chips totaling an estimated 150 cubic yards will be used as pathway surface on new access to the river from the asphalt. A pleasant meander in several places replaces an impenetrable barrier of Himalayan blackberry which not only prevented approach to the River, but completely blocked even a view of this lovely watercourse.
A Lake Redding Drive resident declared that he had lived in his home for thirty four years and never had seen the River from the Trail in this area.
At least three generations of workers, many wearing shirts of their respective community origins, converged on the project area and never issued a word of complaint or disharmony. These volunteers gave a lasting gift to users of this popular trail and the city. Besides access to the river, fire-danger reduction and restoration of a healthy natural ecology. trail users can now visit a long river margin of native azalea formerly lost in the tangle of unwanted vegetation.
There will be further enhancements coming to this area of prodigious effort. Careful piles of blackberry cane will be covered, burned when it is safe to do so and then California poppy seeds sown on the weed free charcoal beds. Herbicide application to any regenerating infiltrators will be performed. And other native plant installations will occur.
That’s fantastic, Randy. My sister and I joined the volunteers and were blown away by not just the scope of the project, but the amount of progress made in one morning.
What’s the back story of this cleanup?
Former Mayor Ken Murray started this now 10-year old idea with a command to clean Churn Creek from near Shasta Dam to the Confluence near Anderson. He asked that Kim Niemer and I split this job, and we have ever since. Kim does the office work and registration, gets sponsors and keeps the Council informed. I am the tactical end and responsible for finding equipment, projects, division of labor and general ground management before, during and after the event.
The project was started as an anti-litter campaign, and in the second year we collected over 100,000 pounds of discarded human waste: everything from automobiles to broken concrete, tires and refrigerators, computers thrown from bridges to coffee cups. Anyway, the land fill fee was over $12,000. and we were advised to do something else as there was no budget for this massive clean up.
The project was morphed into a war against non native vegetation and has been highly successful ever since. We always have more than two hundred — usually 350 — and this year was the best turnout yet at over 500.
People ranged in age from 10 with parents (with some younger exceptions which creep in, and I actually encourage), to 90. Various groups came, including trail people, Mission regulars, scouts, high school students, Simpson University, Shasta College students, California Native Plant Society, Shasta Support Services, Rotary, R. E.U., city parks department, extraordinary Bethel, Friends of Redding Trails, Trail and Bikeways Council, California Conservation Corps, Western Shasta Resource Conservation District, About Trees and RPD Officer Brannon. The list is endless, and there are sponsors like the Shasta Board of Realtors, Dutch Bros., Foothill Distributing, Rotary and Community Services of City of Redding.
What was your day’s goal?
The goal was to reestablish a riparian savanna, once the natural condition of the Sacramento River banks and flood plain. Before Shasta Dam and Smokey the Bear, annual flooding and periodic fires kept vegetation to basically big trees and grass.
Over time the intrusion of non-native and dead material collected to totally obscure what was once park- like and easy to access. People showed up to perform a variety of tasks: hauling already cut branches or dead trees, removing ladder fuel from native trees (just as the river would have done), raking piles of material that can not be placed into the chippers, taking water to volunteers, registration and instruction, as well as those professionals who come and use power equipment to aid those using hand tools in the taking down of the ever present Himalayan blackberry canes.
The project was divided into sections, correct?
Yes, there were five sections this year, and you only have to walk them to see the difference each presented to the work force assigned. Both sides of Carter Creek were liberated and the effort extended all the way to Harlan Drive in the west. A crude estimate of the amount of chips is in excess of 150 cubic yards.
That’s a lot of chipped material. What will happen to it?
These piles will be used in coming months as accessory trail paving material for access to the River from the asphalt. I know people don’t like the unfinished look, but there is only so much you can do in a morning to erase half a century of neglect. That 34-year Lake Redding Drive resident had never seen the river from the trail behind his home, until yesterday.
How did the section work differ this year from previous cleanups?
The sections were similar this year except for Section Five, which was composed of 12-foot-tall blackberry vines climbing and killing native willow. This section needs more work, but the labor is intensive and has to be done very slowly and carefully. But it will be completed in coming months. Meantime, there are wonderful trails to the River which no one has been able to reach in this area for decades.
Any surprises this year?
The wonderful surprise of this year was the discovery of native azalea along the river margin throughout most of all sections, from the Oak Lagoon to Carter Creek. This plant is common along the coast and in cool places between here and Eureka, but it is almost never found in the Great Central Valley. We have it here in Redding, and this reach is particularly rich in this wonderful plant quite different from its domesticated relative. It is deciduous, grows to 20 feet and has a bloom in April so fragrant it is often smelled when the plant cannot be located as it may be a quarter mile away.
I think I’ve smelled it, but never knew the source. What other plants were protected during the cleanup?
There are many native species that are protected,certainly the native trees of several varieties including willow; grape, pipe and green brier vines; Santa Barbara sedge, yerba santa, manzanita, ceanothus, elderberry, spice bush, snow drop, and others are marked and basically volunteers are told to go after the Himalayan blackberry and dead things and leave anything they do not know.
I know there were so many people who helped, but can you single out some significant mentions?
Picking out singular heroes is very difficult, but Karen Bloom of city parks stepped up big time this year. Jim Calhoun at R.E.U. has always been a huge supporter. But we had 10 people from Parks this year, and upon finding out that we might be short a chipper, Karen ordered another. Well, the RCD chipper was repaired in time and was present, so we had seven chippers this year, and they were working full time all morning.
The proof is there for all to see and it was a record amount. Also, one year on Clover Creek, the Cs and Rotary were pinned down by overwhelming enemy numbers and we were facing failure. Suddenly, there appeared 150 Simpson students just like the gulls that saved the Mormons at Salt Lake in 1847. So, it was this year, only it was the Mission Regulars and Simpson faculty who came to save Section 2, and outnumbered Rotary.
There is always something very compelling about these events which take a life of their own once started. I was especially taken by the involved students from U-Prep and Shasta High. They were as interested in the “why” of what they were doing as they were committed to doing the work.
Finally, another noteworthy organization is the California Coastal Commission. We have been affiliated with this statewide effort since our beginning. They have been involved with annual litter abatement for 27 years. We do get support, and we are very proud to be doing work they like but can not duplicate. They have been to Redding and simply can’t believe what we are doing.
Randy, forgive me if I get personal for a moment. Not only do you give your heart and soul to working on this community cleanup, but you’re the primary reason the wicked Arundo plant has been nearly eradicated from Shasta County. You’ve spent untold hours in the heat and cold, in poison oak, being attacked by stinging insects, and doing some supremely difficult, unglamorous and often solitary work.
Why do you do it, Randy?
My personal motive arises from thoughts given us by people like Thoreau, Leopold, Muir, Rachel Carson and so many others. We have a deep and abiding responsibility to our natural world. This is not a government job, or something that can be assumed to be done by others. This stewardship belongs to all of us, and most especially in an area so rich in resources, yet often lacking support because of competing demands.
This is rather like living in a mansion without the means to keep it painted and properly maintained. We can’t look to others. This obligation is ours, and we must and we are discharging it.
The evidence lies for all to see along the North Sacramento River Trail from Carter Creek to Harlan Drive.
And how did you feel after the cleanup?
The event was very gratifying because it seemed everyone finally had a grasp of what was expected and how important is this arduous work, which some consider belongs to others. Once “buy in” has been gained, these precious public places do not return to their former abandoned status. The public will not tolerate it and so these sessions are like a lighthouse showing the way forward against the dangers of apathy and neglect.
Well said, Randy. Anything else?
I thank everyone who came and gave their time and effort. This was the best community cleanup so far, and it showed Redding’s sincere devotion to its open spaces.
Randy Smith is a retired physician who’s dedicated countless volunteer hours as a member of the City of Redding Planning Commission, Redding Rotary Club of the Redding Stream Team and untold other community projects.