You might not know this but Oakland Zoo deals with a lot more than just animals. Surrounding the Zoo, like a giant green oasis, lies the expansive Knowland Park. And running through the park you’ll find the meandering Arroyo Viejo Creek, making its way from the East Bay hills to San Leandro Bay. But this creek isn’t some man-made exhibit with fake foliage. It’s a naturally occurring bio zone, complete with its own plant life, animal life and geological features. In other words, it’s home to a lot of living things. And like far too many natural ecosystems, Arroyo Viejo Creek faces ongoing threats from the human world. So it needs a little help. That’s where Oakland Zoo comes in.
For several years now the Zoo has facilitated restoration work on the creek in an effort to return it to its natural, healthy state. This work involves cleaning up accumulated trash, removing invasive plants (such as French Broom, thistle, poison hemlock and English ivy) and planting native species, such as coastal live oak. Most of this work is done by a group known as the Creek Crew, a team of up to fifty zoo-led volunteers that get together one Saturday each month. Armed with shovels, rakes and work gloves, the Creek Crew involves people of all ages, from kids to seniors. And they have a great time too. Overseeing these efforts is Oakland Zoo’s Creek and Garden Programs Manager, Olivia Lott.
A recent arrival at the Zoo, Olivia is also organizing an ambitious plan to create a series of themed demonstration gardens to use in our Education Creek and Garden programs. These gardens will illustrate a variety of biomes and will be used to educate the public about the role of various plant species. Utilizing our existing planter space in the Education Center courtyard, Olivia hopes to create eight different plots, including an edible garden, a medicinal garden, a xeriscaped garden for sun loving plants, a habitat and shelter garden to attract local wildlife, one for shade plants (filled with ferns native to our northern California woodlands) and other gardens for aquatic plants, carnivorous plants and for attracting butterflies and other pollinators. There’s even a garden consisting of plants that grow without the need for soil that will be grown vertically along one wall of our Education facility!
Olivia plans to involve the public in creating the space for these gardens. Projects like building planter boxes, vertical garden frames and small fences, plus soil preparation and even some planting can all be fun educational projects for the dedicated groups and individuals who volunteer their time here at the Zoo each month. Education Department staff will maintain the gardens once they are established.
Another conservation project Olivia is helping to launch involves sharing a bit of beautiful Knowland Park with the rest of the East Bay. Starting this September, several groups including Creek and Garden classes, Creek Crew volunteers and Zoo staff will begin collecting acorns that have fallen from the Coast Live Oak trees living in the upper park. The acorns will be brought down to the Education Center to be prepped and planted in containers where they will grow for the next 24 months or so. Once the acorns have become small oak saplings, they will be given to East Bay residents who are interested in helping to re-populate their neighborhoods and yards with these magnificent native trees that once gave Oakland its name. Instructions for caring for the saplings as well as small markers that tell about the trees and where they came from will be provided with each tree. This project grew out of the Zoo’s desire to not only replace the few oak trees that will be removed during CA Trail construction, but to also “spread some of the wealth” of Knowland Park throughout East Bay neighborhoods.
If you’re interested in joining the Creek Crew or know someone who is, contact Oakland Zoo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-632-9525 x 233 and get involved with the next work day at Arroyo Viejo Creek. If you’re interested in helping with the gardens, contact Chantal at email@example.com. Either way, you’ll have a great time working with nature and meeting new friends. And it’s a good feeling knowing that you too can make a difference!