Get your hands dirty and give back to your community while
breathing some of the freshest air in L.A. County with Friends of Ballona
Wetlands. The fourth Saturday of every month, Friends of Ballona hosts the Habitat
Restoration Day at the Ballona Wetlands, where community members gather to lend
a hand to and learn more about the one of the last areas of wetland in L.A.
The Friends of Ballona guides are helpful and welcome you
into the reserve, describing the preservation work that needs to be done and
why the wetlands are an essential part of Southern California’s ecosystem.
To sum up the wetlands’ colossal importance in just a few
words: These wetlands provide a home for many native species of both plants and
animals that are otherwise wiped out by urban growth. The reserve serves as a
stopover for migrating birds, an undisturbed place for them to stretch their
wings or lay their eggs. The wetlands also directly benefit the human
population by cleaning runoff rainwater before it hits the ocean and absorbing excess
water, thereby helping to prevent flooding. The wetland’s waters contain
phytoplankton that produce large amounts of oxygen, making the air within the
preserve cleaner than, say, air that comes into your windows while driving on
the 405 (After our tour guide explained this last bit, the entire group of
volunteers took a collective deep breath to capture as much fresh air as
Standing in the wetlands, the idea of the reserve as being
an essential part of our ecosystem as well as a sanctuary for birds, lizards, fish,
insects, and various plant species can be tough to reconcile with the surrounding
urban development. Though Friends of Ballona seeks to preserve and restore this
small bit of native habitat, it’s difficult to ignore the planes flying low
overhead after take-off from LAX, the power lines running along Culver Blvd.,
or the massive office buildings in the distance.
The dichotomy only serves to shed light on the reason you’re
there: to contribute to maintaining the small piece of the area’s coastal
wetland left for us urbanites (and birds, rabbits, lizards, and other
wildlife!) to enjoy. According to the tour guides, there are a few ways
volunteers can help: clearing the preserve of invasive species, planting native
species, and clearing trash that collects in the wetlands’ waterways. This
month, June 2012, a group of about 25 volunteers showed up to remove Euphorbia
terracina, otherwise known as carnation spurge.
We worked near the reserve’s southwest entrance, where the
invasive species could be found everywhere. Using gloves provided by Friends of
Ballona, we got right down on our hands and knees and pulled out the plants by
their roots. It was tough work, but also soothing, and rewarding to know that
we were helping to care for such a precious piece of land.
Just when I started to worry about the possible sunburn I
was feeling on the back of my neck (I’d advise sunscreen to future
participants), a tour guide suggested it was time to explore more of the
reserve, and our group gladly obliged.
The tour guide was knowledgeable and friendly, informing us
of the names of the various plant species we were passing, along with some of
its brilliant history. According to the guide, a sage plant native to the
wetlands was burned by the area’s former residents, the Tongva Native
Americans, providing a sage-scented smoke that masked their human scent before
embarking on a hunt.
One of our guides for the day, Friends of Ballona employee
Patrick Tyrell, called the reserve a “special place that people need to not
just appreciate but lend a hand to preserve.” I’d have to agree. Our tour of
the salt marsh and dunes was so much more meaningful knowing that I’d had some
part (however small) in preserving it.
Last year, roughly 7,000 volunteers participated in wetlands
preservation at Ballona. If you’re interested in learning about Southern
California in one of its natural states and would like to lend a hand to
Friends of Ballona Wetlands, plan to visit on the fourth Saturday of every
month at 9:30 a.m. The event lasts just a couple of hours.
A few words about
volunteering: I found pants and close-toed shoes incredibly useful, and don’t
forget the sunscreen. Water is provided, so remember to stay hydrated.
You can also visit the salt marsh and dunes on the second
Sunday of every month from 1 to 3 p.m. for a guided tour. If you’d prefer to
explore the salt marsh and dunes on your own, the reserve is open on the second
Saturday of every month from 2 to 4 p.m. At the freshwater marsh there is a
public trail, open from dawn until dusk, running around the perimeter, and
guided tours are offered on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month from
10 to 11 a.m.
For more information or to make a reservation for large
parties to participate in habitat restoration, call (310) 306-5994. Be sure to
check out the Friends of Ballona Wetlands website, www.ballonafriends.org, for in-depth
information on the importance of the reserve and the organization’s plans for