International Trails Day at Freshwater Farms

Liam Gwynn, EcoNews Journalism Intern

Northcoast Regional Land Trust volunteers at Freshwater Farms.

The Northcoast Regional Land Trust (NRLT) purchased the 74-acre property, Freshwater Farms, in 2005, and since then has undertaken numerous restoration projects on the wetlands to bring back the biodiversity once found in the area. This process has been expensive and time-consuming, and it continues to this day. From the construction of 3,200-foot troughs to the removal of old tidal gates, the NRLT has worked to convert the pasture back to a flourishing wetland that supports over 46,000 native wetland plants, as well as numerous wetland species including salmon, steelhead trout, and river otters. Freshwater Farms Reserve is now open to the public for kayaking, hiking, and environmental education.

On June 3, the Northcoast Regional Land Trust, in partnership with Planwest Partners, Inc., hosted a volunteer day and hike in celebration of the National Hiking Society’s International Trails Day. Around thirty volunteers gathered at the barn at Freshwater Farms early that Saturday morning. The sun was shining gently, and the sounds of waterfowl blended in with the loud clanging of heavy machinery working in the background, as NRLT Community Engagement Manager Mathew Morassutti led volunteers on a tour across the property.

On a platform overlooking the diverse wetland, Morassutti gave a history of the organization’s restoration efforts and also a glimpse into future projects in the works. The newest of these projects is a collaboration with the Northcoast Community Garden Collaborative (NCGC). Last May, the NCGC started a community garden on the Freshwater Farms Reserve property.

On June 3 NRLT hosted a volunteer day and hike in celebration of the National Hiking Society’s International Trails Day.

“The produce grown here will be donated to Food for People, the Betty Kwan Chin Homeless Foundation, and the Cal Poly OH SNAP food pantry,” said Morassutti.

The volunteers that showed up in support varied greatly in age and background. From little children enthusiastically working with their parents to seasoned members of the community excited to share their knowledge of local flora and fauna, everyone shared one thing in common: they were there to help.

One of the more knowledgeable and passionate volunteers was Barbara Reisman. She is a member of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and comes to Freshwater Farms Reserve twice a week to work on the native plant nursery that the CNPS maintains on the property. She also volunteers and leads tours for Friends of the Dunes.

“I see all the great stuff the Land Trust is doing, and I wanted to give back some for us being here,” said Reisman.

Throughout the hike, Reisman pointed out numerous invasive species that need to be removed, as well as some particularly interesting native plants. Near the end of the tour, she pointed to some short, chubby green stems with excitement.”Pickleweed!” she said.

She then showed the group that the grass is edible, and with encouragement from Morassutti, many in the group reached down for a taste of the strange plant. The name Pickleweed proved to be accurate, and it was surprisingly tasty. Reisman said the plant makes for a salt substitute when ground up or even a salad topping when diced.

After the tour, it was time to get to work. Morassutti quickly gave out instructions, and within no time the volunteers were working together to clear out old plastic sheets that had been buried under the dirt since the time of the previous owner, and dig holes to plant native ferns in their place. Morassutti also gave instructions to remove invasive plants that are harmful to local species.

The most common and harmful invasive species on the property are Himalayan Blackberry and Poison Hemlock. Himalayan Blackberry spreads quickly and outperforms native plants, often suffocating them with sheer volume. Poison Hemlock is especially harmful because oils from the plant change the soil chemistry and make it difficult for native plants to grow. They need to be removed with care, since they have deep roots, and cannot be composted because of their poisonous properties.

Everyone worked in unison, and after just an hour and a half, the sheets had been dug up, ferns had been planted, and a host of invasive plants had been cleared away. Despite the difficult task of digging deep holes in rocky soil, there was a sense of jovial camaraderie in the air, and nobody complained, not even the little girl, who couldn’t have been any older than ten, who picked away at a hole with a pickaxe for the better part of an hour.

The Northcoast Regional Land Trust hosts volunteer Stewardship Workdays on the third Sunday of every month from 9 am to 12 pm. Freshwater Farms Reserve is open for recreation every day from 9 am to 6 pm.