By Sara Butler | Editor
Annual San Diego River Park Foundation cleanup effort focuses on Mission Valley Preserve
On Oct. 28, 121 volunteers showed up at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning to do their part for the Mission Valley Preserve.
The cleanup, organized by the San Diego River Park Foundation (SDRPF) and the city of San Diego, was part of an annual SDRPF river preservation effort: Clean Sweep. The event also landed on Make a Difference Day, which is “one of the largest annual single-days of service nationwide,” according to their website.
Financial Partners Credit Union sponsored the cleanup as part of their 80 Days of Awesome campaign. In addition to answering financial questions at their booth, company representatives offered snacks and handed out towels to the volunteers throughout the day.
To kick off the event, Tiffany Swiderski, program coordinator of SDRPF, gave an introductory speech to the crowd about the 52-acre preserve, which is a rare resource in the commercial-centric community.
“As you can see, we do not have a lot of open space in Mission Valley so this piece of property is really important,” Swiderski said. “Unfortunately, we have been plagued by invasive plants and trash and all sorts of nasty stuff.”
After going over some safety information – including a warning about the possible hepatitis A risk – the volunteers were split up into different groups depending on their interest and skill level.
Tasks included painting fences and tables, repairing murals, removing invasive species, and completing trail work. A small group of vaccinated volunteers picked up waste and litter around the site.
“The reason that we are focusing on other activities – not on trash removal – is for the safety of our volunteers,” Swiderski continued.
Volunteers came from all over the county, including Chula Vista, Eastlake, Imperial Beach, La Jolla, Lemon Grove, Mission Valley, Pacific Beach, Poway and Rancho Peñasquitos. All ages and skill levels were welcome, with the youngest volunteer being 20-month-old Breckon of Pacific Beach.
A large group of more than 90 members represented Torrey Pines Church and all donned “I Love SD” grey T-shirts. The majority of these volunteers worked on the north side of the San Diego River, where they pulled invasive species, raked debris, carried bundles and pushed wheelbarrows filled to the brim.
Eastlake resident Angelica was one of the volunteers with Torrey Pines Church. She hopes that her efforts will encourage others, including her grandchildren, to help preserve our local environment.
“[The San Diego River] is so beautiful… why aren’t we taking care of it?” she asked. “I plan to bring my grandkids to show them the river and the work we’ve done. I [also] teach them not to litter or throw stuff out of the car. People litter and they think ‘It’s only me’ – but it’s not just you.”
Working alongside Angelica was Orange County native Thomas Sumstine. Sumstine graduated San Diego State University in May 2017 and plans to stay in San Diego to pursue environmental work in the area.
Artistically-inclined individuals were stationed at the cartoon-style mural, which had been defaced with graffiti. They were encouraged to get creative as they covered tagging and freehanded open canvas sections.
Mural repair volunteers included high school students from e3 Civic High School and Bonita Vista High School, such as Mia Santos.
“Take ownership of what you’re working on,” Ally Welborn, SDRPF’s community engagement manager, told the painters. She emphasized that the experience was a chance for the volunteers to express themselves and make something beautiful.
In total, the 121 volunteers “removed 3,500 square feet of invasive arundo plants; cleared 1,500 square feet of invasive Brazilian pepper tree; restored the tagged ‘Happy Trails’ bike path mural; repainted chipped picnic tables, bridges, fencing and benches; improved more than 1,900 feet of trail; covered 40 square feet of graffiti; and removed over 3,000 pounds of trash,” according to SDRPF.
In addition to accomplishing all of the tasks they set out to complete, Welborn shared that the Oct. 28 cleanup served as an initial hedge point for community members to connect with the space for the first time.
“[These events] are also meant to be a time for people to get in touch with the river and see that it’s right in their backyard,” Welborn said in an interview after the event.
Rob Hutsel, president and CEO of the SDRPF, emphasized the importance of volunteers at these cleanup events to protect the San Diego River.
“It’s always amazing how much work can get done when volunteers work together at events like these,” Hutsel said in a press release. “It can truly transform the spaces so that they can better provide habitat for wildlife, protect our precious natural resources and introduce people to new places to explore.”
— Sara Butler is the editor of Mission Valley News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.