Your Community Parks, Open Spaces, and Gardens Need You

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Picture a place in your community that you visit regularly to relax, walk, play, picnic, or just enjoy being outdoors. Have you ever helped take care of it?

If you answered yes, thank you.

For those of you who answered no (not yet), you are in luck because opportunities abound to do your part in keeping the outdoor spaces in your community beautiful, functional, fun, clean, and safe.

It is easy to talk yourself into believing that someone else will do it, especially when you are feeling overly busy and stressed out (or even when you are not). However, the reality is that public outdoor spaces are chronically underfunded and understaffed. Chances are that the hardworking employees and loyal cadres of volunteers who tend your community parks, gardens, and open spaces would appreciate your help.

Imagine the possibilities if you, me, and everyone else contributed even just one morning or afternoon a year to help care for an outdoor space that we feel is special. The number of trees planted, native plants rescued, playgrounds rehabilitated, walking trails maintained, picnic tables refurbished, weeds pulled, and pieces of litter picked up would be astonishing and wonderful.

Besides the obvious benefits to the community, these kinds of activities are good for your wellbeing, too. They require you to be present and to think about what you are doing not worry about micromanaging bosses, piles of laundry, or bickering family members. Working outside with other like-minded people is fun and gives you a feeling of doing something worthwhile.

Sometimes volunteer activities occur unexpectedly or by chance and turn out to be just the impetus you need to get started. That is what happened to me.

Something Happened on the Way to the Wildflower Show

A few weeks ago, I saw a notice in a newsletter from an environmental nonprofit called ECOSLO with a list of several volunteer opportunities for an event they were calling Seas to Trees Day. After consulting with my spouse, I signed us up in hopes that we would be helping with set up for the Cambria Wildflower Show.

Several days later, I received an enthusiastic email from Erin thanking me for signing up to remove invasive ice plant on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. I thought, “Oh no, not ice plant! I have been battling ice plant in our yard for years. Why would I want to volunteer to do it someplace else?” I considered asking for a reassignment or just telling Erin that we had changed our minds about volunteering.

The next day, I was still pondering what to do. “Hmm, we do enjoy walking on Fiscalini Ranch almost every day. This unwanted assignment provides an excellent opportunity for us to give back in a small way.”

We decided to do it.

Before I tell you how the day went, some background about ice plant and the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve might be useful.

Ice Plant

Ice plant is a hardy and fast-growing plant with long-lasting flowers that are quite lovely when it is growing along its native coast in South Africa. It is an unwelcome interloper where I live on the Central California Coast and many other places. Ice plant spreads quickly and has a way of taking over an entire area hogging all the sunlight, water, and soil nutrients for itself. Ice plant chokes out the native plants that are used to playing nicely with their neighbors and do not have a defense against this invader.

When my spouse and I moved to our current home about ten years ago, there were several places in our wild yard that ice plant had completely taken over by stealthily crawling over from neighboring yards. It took me several years with a shovel and a pair of loppers to remove the ice plant from our yard. I have tried explaining to the plants that they should avoid our yard because as soon as they reach over the property line I am going to cut off their new growth, but apparently, we are having a language barrier because they will not stop trying to build a new outpost in our yard.

Our ice plant situation seems insignificant to the enormous incursion at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve encompasses 437 acres in the midst of our small town with trails along the ocean bluffs and through our precious Monterey pine forest. This special place exists because a dedicated group of people worked for years to block development on this land that had been used partly for grazing sheep and cattle. Eventually, they raised enough money to purchase the land and protect it forever.

As I mentioned earlier, my spouse and I walk on the Ranch many times a week, mostly on the bluff trail. During the two-mile round trip, we look for whale spouts, otters, and sea lions, watch a wide variety of local and migratory birds soar and swoop overhead, and observe the landscape as it changes throughout the year.

At some time in the distant past, someone must have planted ice plant on the Ranch. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, however, it has now spread down over a huge swath of the bluff cliffs and it is continually marching towards the nearby path. In some places, native plants are struggling to survive in the middle of large patches of ice plant or taking a stand along the edges. In other areas, the ice plant has completely taken over.

The nonprofit Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and other diligent volunteers have been successful at keeping the ice plant from crossing the path and moving onto the rest of the Ranch. They have also embarked on a massive and probably decades-long project to clear the ice plant growing between the path and the cliff edge. Native plants are making a comeback in the cleared areas.

Occasionally I have had a fleeting thought that I should help with the ice plant removal on the Ranch but I never actually did it, until the Seas and Trees Day event.

Seas and Trees Day Event

When Saturday, April 28 rolled around, I slathered on sunscreen and donned my California Native Plant Society t-shirt and a pair of gauntlet type gloves that I always wear to do yard work because I do not like creepy crawlies. I filled up my reusable water bottle and grabbed a pair of clippers my spouse had thoughtfully gotten out of the garage.

A group of cheerful people including several Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students greeted us at the designated meeting location. After signing waiver forms, we headed down the path a short distance to the day’s ice plant removal spot. Holly, who manages projects on the Ranch, gave us a plastic tarp and explained that the mission was to get rid of the ice plant without damaging the native plants. Clearly, this was going to be a finesse job that did not involve shovels or loppers—a new experience for me.

Ice plant stems are about the thickness of a highlighter marker and attach themselves to the ground with tenacious roots every few inches. Every part of the plant stores water so it is heavy. If you are lucky, you can grab a trailing end and pull up a piece that is three or four feet long. However, most of the work that day required using clippers to cut stems around the native plants and then pull up small pieces. I was surprised at how many itty-bitty native plant seedlings were gamely trying to make a go of it under the ice plant. Freed from a dense and almost impenetrable mat of ice plant they now have a better chance of becoming adult plants.

We tossed pieces of ice plant on the tarp until it looked like it might be getting too heavy to move. Then two people picked up the corners and carefully tried to tiptoe through the native plants and dump it onto one of two piles we were creating at the edge of the cliff. Holly and other regular volunteers had their own one-person sized tarps.

Bending over clipping ice plants stems, standing up and yanking out longer pieces, and hauling a tarp full of ice plant is physically demanding so I was ready to be done when our 2-hour stint was up.

Our work made a tiny dent in the ice plant, but we did meet some delightful people and made a small contribution to the wellbeing of the Ranch. I also gained a greater appreciation for the people who take care of the Ranch day after day, week after week.

Part of the Volunteer Group in Front of One of the Piles of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018
Part of the Volunteer Group in Front of One of the Piles of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018 – Photo Credit Holly Sletteland (also the 3 above photos)

An hour or so later, wearing the same clothes, my spouse and I enjoyed the wildflower show and I savored a delicious homemade lemon bar I bought at the refreshment stand.

Holly has my name and email address now, so chances are, on some future morning, my spouse and I will find ourselves standing in the midst of another patch of ice plant on the Ranch with clippers at the ready.

Call to Action

Certainly, if an unexpected volunteer opportunity falls in your lap, accept it. However, you can take a more active approach. Choose a garden, park, or open space in your community and find out what volunteer activities are available. Then pick one and do it.

If you do not want to or are not able to contribute your physical labor, there are sure to be other ways you can help.

Do you have an artistic flair? Volunteer to design a flyer for a volunteer day. Are you good at organizing information? Offer to keep track of volunteer responses and forms. Do you know your way around social media? Volunteer to do postings and engage with people on social media. Do you like writing? Offer to write a piece for a website, newsletter, or newspaper. Do you enjoy meeting and talking with new people? Sign up to be a docent or to staff a booth at an event.

Everyone has something to offer and it is up to each one of us to do our part to take care of the community parks, open spaces, and gardens we love.

Featured Image at Top: Bluff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA, May 2018 (notice the ice plant on the left side of the trail) – Photo Credit Green Groundswell.

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Find it in the Federal Register – Government Transparency

Information is available at your fingertips.

The Federal Register enables you to learn about proposed regulations and participate in the decision-making process of the U.S. federal government. I like that.

The purpose of the Federal Register is to be a source for and a record of the official actions of the executive branch of the U.S. government. Information is compiled into a consistent format that is published and made available to the public, in print and online, each business day (except federal holidays).

The Federal Register contains executive orders and proclamations issued by the president, rules and regulations that federal agencies are proposing, implementing, or repealing, and public notices about hearings, meetings, and federal grant applications.

After browsing a few issues of the Federal Register, I realized that it offers an early warning system of sorts by providing a heads up on what federal agencies are considering doing before they actually do it (and afterward, too.)

This empowers you and me to get involved early in issues that we care about by writing, calling, or emailing our elected officials, attending public meetings, and/or making public comments on specific items (anonymously if preferred).

Now, I subscribe to the Federal Register and receive a daily summary in my email inbox and you can, too.

In this post, you will have an opportunity to learn a little about the history of the Federal Register and then look at an example from the Friday, April 20, 2018 issue, which prompted this post. Here is a hint. What does the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 have to do with opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and natural gas exploration?

A Brief History of the Federal Register

The Federal Register got its start during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt became the 32nd president of the United States in 1933, he immediately set about trying to fulfill his campaign promise of creating a New Deal for Americans who were suffering from the worst economic crisis in the country’s history. Between his executive orders and legislation from Congress, there was an onslaught of new programs, rules, and regulations resulting in a mountain of documents.

Back then, everything was printed on paper with little consistency in format and there were limited ways to make the information available to the public and other government agencies leaving many people in the dark. For instance, federal agencies found it difficult to keep track of their own documents and companies complained that they could not comply with regulations that they did not know existed.

Two pieces of legislation made substantial inroads into taming the document chaos and making information more accessible.

The National Archives Act of 1934 created a new agency responsible for taking custody of original federal government documents, archiving them, and making them available for public inspection. Later they were put in charge of publishing the Federal Register in conjunction with the Government Printing Office.

The Federal Register Act of 1935 required that certain documents be printed and distributed in a uniform and timely manner in a new publication called the Federal Register. The documents were to include: presidential proclamations and executive orders; documents the president determined to have general applicability and legal effect; documents required to be published by Act of Congress; and documents authorized to be published by regulations.

Federal Register, Volume 1, No. 1, March 14, 1936
Federal Register, Volume 1, No. 1, March 14, 1936

A feature of the law was that no document could be used against any person unless it had been published in the Federal Register first. That also meant that people could not claim ignorance of rules and regulations anymore.

One way for people to keep current was to pay $10.00 a year for a Federal Register by mail subscription.

The first Federal Register rolled off the printing press on March 14, 1936.

This 16-page publication was mostly taken up by regulations from the Treasury Department pertaining to the newly passed Social Security Act. It also included a presidential executive order with extensive directions about enlarging the Cape Romain Migratory Bird Refuge in South Carolina and a cryptic notice from the Department of Agriculture about a public hearing scheduled to address the regulation of milk handling in St. Louis, Missouri.

Since its inception in 1936, the Federal Register system has expanded and evolved.

In 1937, Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Register Act providing for a codification of regulatory documents resulting in the Code of Federal Regulations that exists today. Regulations in the Code are organized into fifty subject areas called Titles, such as Title 7 – Agriculture, Title 21 – Food and Drugs, and Title 40 – Protection of Environment.

The Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 was important because it made the rulemaking process (creating regulations) more transparent to the public. This law requires federal agencies to publish notices and information in the Federal Register about proposed rulemaking and provide an opportunity for the public to comment before the final rules can be put into effect.

The Federal Register system entered the Internet age in 1992 when the Federal Register became available via an electronic bulletin board. Nowadays, the Federal Register and the Code of Federal Regulations have their own websites and everything is available online as well as in print.

These are just a few of the highlights of the history of the Federal Register. If you are interested in more in-depth information, there are links in the resource section below.

Next is a current example of the Federal Register.

Federal Register, Volume 83, No. 77, April 20, 2018

Earlier in the post, I posed the question, “What does the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 have to do with opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and natural gas exploration?” You may already know the answer. If not, read on.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Looking Toward Brooks Range Mountains - Photo Credit USFWS
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Looking Toward Brooks Range Mountains in Alaska – Photo Credit USFWS

You are probably familiar with President Trump’s promise to reduce corporate tax rates in hopes that with more money in their pockets companies will create jobs for Americans. Congress pushed through and passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 on December 22, 2017, so the president could sign it before Christmas.

Buried on page 182 of the 185-page Tax Act is a prime example of pork barrel politics in action, which is when a completely unrelated item is tacked onto a bill because it would not have had enough support in Congress to pass on its own.

This add-on to the Tax Act makes a small but significant amendment to the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which specifically prohibits the production of oil and gas from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) unless authorized by an Act of Congress.

The Tax Act provided the necessary Act of Congress and directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to open up the 1.6 million acres of the ANWR known as the Coastal Plain for an oil and natural gas leasing program.

By law, the BLM is required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (a report) before they can implement a new oil and gas leasing program. They are also required to inform the public of their intention to do so via the Federal Register and to provide an opportunity for public comment.

Thanks to the early warning provided by the Federal Register, this issue is now on my radar screen. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get in on the ground floor so to speak by making a public comment on the website where the BLM is accepting comments. Please consider joining me and making your own comment.

BLM ANWR Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Program EIS Notice Public Comment

After reading this post, I hope you have gained an appreciation for the value of the Federal Register and will take a few minutes to create your own account and subscription. The sign-up link is in the upper right-hand corner of the Federal Register website.

Featured Image at Top: Little Kid Wearing a Pith Helmet Lying in the Grass Looking through Binoculars – Photo Credit iStock/Maartje van Caspel

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