No Longer in Doubt: Battle Nearly Won Against Trail’s Invasive Plants

During 45 days of May and June 1864, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia lost as many soldiers as the previous three years of Civil War. However, after that time, the outcome of the conflict was never in question.

So it was today, only losses were one-sided. After 12 years of volunteer struggles against non-native plants in local riparian corridors, a successful conclusion can no longer be questioned.

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Before.

As in all 44-Friday missions since 2012, City Projects’ (Bethel) international students carried the heavy load and accomplished everything given them to do.

Only Gideon, perhaps, would understand what a small, dedicated band can accomplish during a single day against a powerful, ancient foe. Spanish broom and oleander downstream of the Stress Ribbon Bridge along the North Sacramento River Trail (NSRT) came from long ago nearby federal attempts to cover denuded land which resulted from toxic smelter fumes produced during the Smoke Wars of 1896-1917.

Since the NSRT union with the South Sacramento River Trail in 1990, the invading broom had dominated the area between the Trail and the Sacramento River. In most locations for more than a mile on both sides of the singular Bridge, the River could not be seen or easily visited.

Last winter’s community clean-up campaign began to reverse years of neglect. Today, by City Project’s hiring two professionals from About Trees, and the added chainsaws of Francis Berg, Jim Wyatt and an old Rotarian, garage- size piles of enemy invaders were cut, hauled, stacked and prepared for burning by students from as far away as India and Australia, or as near as Detroit, Houston and Keswick.

Faithful Redding Police Officer Bob Brannon and a six-member Shasta County Work Release detail added to the array in this fight. Karen Bloom from City Parks brought two helpers to treat stumps so that regeneration will be very limited, or impossible.

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After.

To say the parties in this conflict were unequal in numbers would be a serious understatement. Those familiar with the location will come to a very different landscape on the next visit.

A few decry the change from loss of unwelcome plant pests. They do not understand the necessity for this battle. Indeed, the sterile nature of foreign single species ecology, the incredible incendiary potential of the growth and the debilitating respiratory effect of pollen on those with restrictive airway disease or poisonous sap are much more serious considerations than the loss of a small flower in spring and summer.

In fact, California poppies have been planted and are growing nicely on the charcoal from prior enemy bonfires. Soon a healthy, inviting, diverse, native plant culture will resume its prior and rightful riparian savanna appearance.

The only expression of gratitude worthy of the toil and dedication of this week’s warriors lies in the changed landscape and recovered beauty of this special place.

Photographs really do not tell the story. Those there know what happened and should be quite proud of their effort on behalf of a better Redding.

Randall R. Smith
Randy Smith is a retired physician, morphed into a full-time professional volunteer. He is a former member of the Redding Planning Commission and Cal-Tip Advisory Board. He is an active member and the founder of the Allied Stream Team of Rotary Club of Redding. He lives in Redding with his wife, Judy.
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar EasternCopunty says:

    What a colossal undertaking.  Hats off to all the volunteers.  Not taking away any kudos to all of you, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the illegal encampments could also be eradicated . . .

  2. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    How can we as a community express our thanks to all those who have kept the faith and worked in this endeavor for the past months and years? Thank you seems so trivial. And it’s also a given that, like house work, the battle is never completed. It will have to be revisited many times in the future, I’m sure. So, to everyone who put in hours undeterred by heat or cold or scratches or bug bites, THANK YOU!

  3. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    Thank you for getting this story a wider audience.  I can tell by the tabulations that weed wars are not the front runner articles, but there are people who read them with better understanding.

    City Projects had three Stress Ribbon Bridge sessions last winter and three more are coming now.  Community Creek Clean Up did attempt to improve the South Sacramento River Trail in 2008 with limited success against Ailanthus.  Interestingly, this Chinese import was the only tree plus scattered native poison oak which survived the H2S and SO2 from twenty years of smelter operation.  So, the federal government by use of the Civilian Conservation Corps planted the Ponderosa pine and knobcone pine you see today.  Additionally, they planted Spanish broom, black locust, Ailanthus and Himalyan blackberry came eventually.   Places where you can see the original Spanish broom are at the Shasta Dam Visitor Center and downstream to Coram Ranch on the other side as well as the Packer’s Bay Entrance across the Pit River Bridge. The entire area had been a moonscape for almost half a century.  Gradually, manzanita, ceanothus and other natives have tried to return.

    It is more than lamentable that a city has a wonderful riparian trail system where the Sacramento River can never be seen or reached because of blockade from non native, intrusive, wildlife sterile, access preventing, sometimes dangerous plants.  Things are better than a few years ago and my thanks belong to all who have labored toward this goal.  I never witnessed this, but credible sources have told me Gary Matson was spraying Himalayan blackberry twenty years ago along the South Sacramento River Trail.  This effort must continue and maintenance is nothing compared with what is needed when inactivity and indifference are operative.

    • Steve Towers Steve Towers says:

      Good effort, and nice tip of the hat to Gary Matson, whose various works on behalf of our greenbelts and museums are still with us to this day.  Gary had interesting and complicated views on non-native invasive plants.  He somewhat grudgingly admitted that they should be managed, but he nonetheless admired them.  Gary was something of a contrarian, so if you said X needed to be done, he was likely to say non-X was what was needed.  At times I thought he was being a curmudgeon for the sake of orneriness, but in time I came to recognize that he was most often trying to get people he was working with to sharpen their thinking.

  4. I am your unabashed fan, Randy Smith, for not just who you are as a person, and for your character, but for your tireless work you invest in our community. You retired from a human life-saving occupation, only to turn your sights on saving some of our most valuable natural spaces. You are humble, so graciously and willingly giving credit to others, while downplaying your colossal contributions (“an old Rotarian”). You have toiled for countless hours, days, months and years in heat, cold, rain and darkness, often alone and unseen. But many of us recognize and are aware of what you do. We admire your work, and applaud you for your vision, and for luring legions of people to join you in implementing your vision, people who come from every corner and station of this region (some from other parts of the world) to restore, repair and beautify our area’s most prized-but neglected natural landscapes, open spaces, stream beds and river trails. I agree with Adrienne that “thank you” doesn’t seem adequate, but know it’s sincere and heartfelt. Thank you! We appreciate you.