Even more than the family dinner table, a community center can be a place of renewal, celebration, education, nourishment, boundary-setting, storytelling, memorializing and bonding—all essential to the social fabric of our lives. The Mattole Valley Community Center (MVCC) in Petrolia, California, is a social keystone for the whole Mattole River Valley and
its hill communities.
Founded in 1975, MVCC has been a hub for classes, events and community projects. When the 1992 earthquake struck, the building served as the Emergency Services center where FEMA set up an intake office. The Center raises funds for local schools and the Lost Coast Camp through its thrice-yearly Cabaret. A Farmer’s Market takes place year round every Sunday. The MVCC hosts public meetings—for fundraisers or projects, to address a local issue, or to provide a public forum regarding proposed changes at the county or state level that may affect the community. It is a venue for all kinds of classes and get-togethers that range from Chi Gong to ping-pong. The MVCC has also sheltered the Mattole Restoration Council (MRC) since its founding in 1983.
Last fall, MRC applied for funding to reduce dangerous fuels from resident Eucalyptus tree around the MVCC property. Eucalyptus stands are notoriously volatile—producing extremely hot fires. Their pungent leaves and shredding bark can quickly spread fire to nearby areas by releasing flaming embers. The flammable oils of the trees themselves can explode in a fire.
Several trees were identified by the MVCC board as a hazard. In particular, the public skateboard ramp was overhung with heavy branches that regularly plunked Eucalyptus buttons on the ramp—and sometimes the skaters. For a few years the MVCC and a cook or two have nurtured the community with pizzas fresh out of a cob oven; however, large tree branches were looming. Older trees had produced many slender offspring, creating a dense thicket. A professional tree climber and fuels reduction crew was needed to help keep the MVCC the safe, creative haven it had become.
The MRC proposed the Mattole Valley Community Center Fuels Reduction Project for a Title 3 federal grant administered through the Humboldt County Fire Safe Council (HCFSC). The project proposed that MVCC and the Mattole Valley Resource Center (MVRC) would make a matching contribution of volunteer labor and equipment.
The project was approved and implemented in February 2015. A tree climber and a chipper crew were hired, and at least ten volunteers labored for several days to implement the project.
Larger pieces of Eucalyptus were cut into firewood and given to low-income seniors. MRC was able to hire a local youth team to shoot a cool video of the experience.
See the video here: https://youtu.be/p9IbJg9YnSE.
MRC has been successful in implementing fuel reduction projects both large and small for the past decade. It helped in the development of the Lower Mattole Fire Safe Council (LMFSC) and continues to provide capacity for project development. LMFSC developed its Community Wildfire Protection Plan in 2002 and the Lower Mattole Fire Atlas in 2004. Building on
the planning effort by identifying and prioritizing projects, MRC implemented a handful of fuels reduction projects through the CA Fire Safe Council, with funding from the USDA along with County-administered federal funds.
The Petrolia Fire Department and the Honeydew Volunteer Fire Company are integrated into the processes, plans, and projects of the Fire Safe Council. Both fire service communities, with help from LMFSC and MRC, have had Firewise Community status since 2010. Forming a Fire Safe Council, having a completed plan, an atlas and Firewise status truly helps in securing project funds.
To get those crew boots on the ground, or in this case, up in the trees, we encourage communities everywhere to not only start or maintain a community center, but to start or maintain a Fire Safe Council and become a federally-listed Firewise Community. Most grants require matching labor in the form of volunteers or other kinds of matching funds. Sometimes it can seem like a lot of preparation and paperwork, but when it coalesces into a community-sponsored project it is a beautiful way to reconnect to the hub and spark everyone involved to reduce any fuels buildup they might have on their own property. Just after this project, we got more calls to rent our chipper than ever before.
Even on the North Coast, weather predictions forecast longer, drier summers, providing ever more reason to reduce fuels, conserve water, stay cool and maintain your Center.