While studying ecology at the City College of San Francisco and interning with the National Park Service, Patrick Rump wondered if there might be a way for him to use his developing skills right in his own backyard. His work on native plant propagation and monitoring with the NPS inspired him to action. But he lived in the impoverished Bayview Hunters Point section of San Francisco, and there didn't seem to be much opportunity to work with native plants or habitat restoration.
Then one day he was walking by Heron's Head Park and saw that the Port of San Francisco had begun restoring the park and wetlands. Heron's Head is a 24-acre spit of land jutting into the San Francisco Bay. It had become a dumping ground for old cars, refrigerators and industrial chemicals. But, after two decades of neglect, a salt marsh had formed on four acres of the land near the bay and local groups had begun advocating for cleanup and restoration of the area.
Patrick became a volunteer at the park and was eventually hired and trained as a naturalist and educator to work in the park. "As the park naturalist, I did everything from cleaning up trash to touring dignitaries around the park," says Patrick. "The best part was working with school groups and teaching kids the importance of habitat restoration," he says.
Working with local groups, like the Golden Gate Audubon and Literacy for Environmental Justice, Patrick has helped transform Heron's Head into a wonderful park and wetland habitat. The salt marsh has been expanded to nine acres. Over the last six years, Patrick has helped organize thousands of volunteers for clean-up projects and replanting. Native species have been reintroduced, including a plant on the national endangered plant list. However, this was only the beginning of Patrick's work in habitat restoration.
In 2003, Patrick went back to school to study horticulture and plant propagation. Just as he was finishing his studies, he undertook a new and even larger project. The Yosemite Slough (a "slough" is a small stream) terminates in the San Francisco Bay at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. Over the years, the slough had become an industrial dumping ground and much of the wetlands had been filled in. All that remained was a narrow channel of water and a one-acre wetland. Local environmental groups got together and started advocating for the slough to be restored to its once-important role as a wildlife habitat. Literacy for Environmental Justice and the California State Parks Foundation asked Patrick to start a native plant nursery to rebuild the habitat. It was his dream job. Not only could he use his skills at native plant propagation, he could also involve high school kids from the local area. The newly formed program was called "Bay Youth for the Environment."
In 2005, Patrick and a cadre of volunteers established a nursery and quickly started producing plants. Today, 10,000 plants are being grown at the native plant nursery, and are used in restoration projects at Candlestick Point, Heron's Head and other projects around San Francisco Bay. While the city and local groups work on clearing toxins from the land, Patrick and his corps of hundreds of volunteers stand ready to replant the soils with native plants.
Patrick could not undertake such an ambitious project without lots of help from volunteers and interns. "With Bay Youth for the Environment, we set up paid internships for high school students to work in the nursery," says Patrick. "In addition to learning horticulture skills, they develop leadership, advocacy and communication skills that will help them the rest of their lives," he says. The nursery provides the teens with a quiet, steady, and settling place to go in a hectic and often negative environment.
The students have become so invested in the project that, huge strides are being made very rapidly. The nursery is up and running, students are leading tours for government officials and dignitaries, and are conducting classes for younger kids. They are organizing adult volunteers to work on the site. "It's amazing how these kids have taken the project on as their own," says Patrick. They have created a 2,000-square-foot demonstration native plant garden, cleaned up the community garden, built a meeting area and planted fruit trees, berries and vines.
"The kids feel good about doing something positive for their local community and some are beginning to see this work as a possible career path," says Patrick. Some who have been interns have gone on to Cornell University and the University of North Carolina to study Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering. One intern, LaConstance Shahid, won the prestigious David Brower Youth Award for her work on the project. "The award comes with scholarship money for college," says Patrick. While the nursery is greening up San Francisco, it is also opening up exciting new worlds for many disadvantaged youths.
As the $25 million restoration project for Candlestick Point gets underway, Patrick is committed to seeing it through by providing all the plants needed to restore the park. "One of the best parts of this whole project is seeing how people's attitudes change about Bayview Hunters Point once they come here. I like to dispel the myths about the dangerous nature of this community and show people that there is a lot of good going on here," he says. Patrick's work to restore to restore natural habitats is restoring the community as well as the land.
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