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Fern Dell Trees Get Heaps of Help

CATEGORY: Current Events · In the News |
On Nov 25, 2016



Shortly before 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning in August I arrived at Griffith Park’s famed Fern Dell. Friends of Griffith Park had put out a call for volunteers to help mulch trees in the Dell. This would be my first time volunteering with FoGP and I didn’t want to be late, so I got up at 6:30, wolfed down a quick breakfast and headed for the park.

I found my way to the meeting spot on Fern Dell Drive, opposite The Trails Café (not yet open for business), and was greeted by president Gerry Hans, sporting a FoGP cap and T-shirt. “You must be here to help with the mulching,” he said with a welcoming smile. “Thanks for coming.” Others began to arrive, and soon 15 or 20 volunteers had gathered: cheerful, friendly and wide awake despite the early hour: FoGP regulars, newcomers (like me), board members; a group of kids from Marshall High; young couples; seniors; mothers with young children: all coming together to help the Dell’s precious trees.

mulch1A sign-in table that included general information about the organization was set up. Vice president, volunteer services, Laura Howe thanked everyone for coming out early on a Saturday. She gave us an overview of the project and explained that sycamore, redwood and other trees: some of them 100 or more years old and hundreds of feet tall: that populated the Dell’s tranquil grove needed help. They were severely stressed: like so many of the park’s trees: because of California’s long drought. Lack of water stresses trees and weakens their ability to fight off harmful insects, parasites and disease and puts them on the edge of survival.

Griffith Park covers more than 4,310 acres and is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species. Oak, walnut, mountain mahogany, California live oak and toyon are just a few kinds of trees that can be found there. Sadly, many have already died.

Mulching the Dell’s trees would ease their stress and: hopefully: save them. Wow! I thought:.if we could:if we only could:how wonderful that would be.

Mulch to the rescue! As many of you know, mulch is a protective covering that, among other things, helps reduce evaporation, maintain even soil temperature, prevent erosion, control weeds and enrich the soil. It can also improve soil fertility as it decomposes.

Laura pointed out the heaping mounds of wood-chip mulch provided by the Recreation and Parks Department. She suggested that we form groups of 3 or 4 to a mound. We were given gardening gloves and masks for protection against dust from the mulch. She explained how to spread the mulch around the trees, being careful to leave a few inches between the base of the trunk and the mulch “bowl” that would surround it. Laura answered my question before I asked it: too much mulch on the trunk can cause moisture to build up, which creates an ideal environment for insect pests, diseases and decay.

Brightly colored pails and shovels and rakes were provided. We were to create a 3- to 4-inch-thick blanket of mulch throughout the area, which would be watered when the mulching was done. This protective blanket would enable the trees’ roots to absorb and hold the water: and give them a chance to survive.

Time to get to it. I got a pail and shovel and headed down the path. As I entered the Dell, a wonderful woody, earthy scent filled the air. I took a deep breath. Heaven!

The heaping mounds of mulch were quickly reduced as the mulch was spread around the trees and on the dry, hard ground. Before long I relinquished my shovel to a newly arrived volunteer and used my hands to fill pail after pail of the dusty, aromatic stuff and deposit it to a nearby tree. I soon found it easier to sit on the ground and work the mulch around the tree’s base, remembering to leave a few inches between the trunk and the mulch. Besides, sitting on the ground made me feel more connected to the trees. I was having a ball. Bits of wood-chip stuck to the gardening gloves, adorned my socks and decorated my hair. “Ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!”

Quiet conversation, soft laughter, the rustle of leaves underfoot and the soft swish of rakes being used to even out the layer of mulch were heard throughout the Dell and seemed to pay tribute to the thirsty trees.

Around us as we worked, people were out enjoying the park: hikers, bicyclists, a small group of Saturday morning regulars gathering after their hike to enjoy a breakfast picnic, a family getting ready for a birthday celebration, a man reading a newspaper. Some would stop and wonder at our busy band of volunteers. It must have been a curious site: a gaggle of people of all ages, putting brown stuff in pails and dumping it on the ground. Some asked what we were doing: oh, yeah, right: mulch, they said, and walked away as puzzled as when they first saw us. Some thanked us for taking care of the trees; and I thought, for all of us here, this is our way of thanking the trees for everything they give us day in and day out, every day of every year.

We all know that trees provide shade, that we can cool off on a hot day just by standing or sitting under a tree. But they do a lot more. Trees absorb harmful chemicals and massive amounts of carbon monoxide and give off oxygen; make our air cleaner by filtering and trapping pollutants such as smoke and dust; provide homes for birds, bees, squirrels and possums and many other species. Trees can cool a city by up to 10 °F by shading homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves. And exposure to trees and nature reduces mental fatigue.

When I am in the company of trees I am reminded of both the durability and fragility of our natural environment, of how seemingly little it takes to either nurture it or allow it to wither. I feel calmer, more at peace when I’m around trees. They somehow seem to instill a sense of security. Every living thing that comprises our natural environment is a unique and irreplaceable part of the whole that sustains life on earth. For me, trees: proud, tall and elegant, their abundant, sheltering boughs above us: are testimony to the mutual bond we share with the natural world.

Given the park’s more than 4,000 acres and the many hundreds of trees that it is home to, a few hours work on a Saturday morning in a single area of the park may seem like, well, a drop in the mulch bucket. But there would be more mulch and more Saturdays. And more volunteers who would contribute to the well-being of the trees, and would bring with them a fervent hope that the trees would be saved by their efforts.

The day’s work finished, we gathered our tools and trundled back up the path and over the little bridge to where we had come together a couple of hours earlier. Trail’s End Café was now open for business, and a line of hungry park visitors waited to place their orders.

Gerry, Laura and other FoGP board members thanked us for a job well done. It was a good feeling. Board member Kathryn Louyse, who had taken pictures as we worked, rounded us up for a final group shot. Several of us handed her cell phones to get in on the act. She accommodated everyone: and didn’t drop a single phone!

New friends had been made and promises of “next time” spoken. I came away from that first Saturday with Friends of Griffith Park with a light heart and a feeling of hope. Good people were doing good things: fighting the good fight: and I was part of it. I was already looking forward to the next time.

~Mary Proteau



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