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Berkeleyan

Stege Marsh Restoration Project provides participants with hands-on environmental lessons

| 27 October 2004

Five years ago UC Berkeley began cleaning up industrial waste that a previous property owner had deposited in Stege Marsh, a tidal marsh located between Point Isabel and the Richmond Marina at the campus’s Richmond Field Station. Large portions of marsh were restored with clean bay mud that required replanting (with native marsh and coastal vegetation) before it could serve as wildlife habitat. In 2003, the campus and the Watershed Project, an educational nonprofit focused on the San Francisco Bay estuary, conceived an innovative marsh-restoration project that engages environmental and educational community groups, UC Berkeley students, and local K-12 schools in discovery and restoration of the marsh’s ecosystem.

Spearheading the project are Berkeley’s project-management team (staff from Environment, Health and Safety and Facilities Services), the Environmental Sciences Teaching Program (ESTP) — a science-education program for undergraduates, based in the Earth and Planetary Science department — and the Richmond-based Watershed Project.

The Stege Marsh Restoration Project offers varied learning opportunities, depending upon where a student falls along the educational continuum. Several Berkeley students have conducted research on the restoration project for their senior theses. ESTP undergraduate research apprentices gain valuable insight by applying what they learn in class to a real-world experience, says Stephen Andrews, the ESTP coordinator.

“Working on the restoration project helps them determine if they want to pursue this as a career path,” explains Andrews. “They learn that restoration is hard work: pulling out pampas grass and dealing with invasive species is not a glamorous business.”

A sense of ownership

For younger students, experiencing the shoreline environment for the first time may be the project’s best perk.

“One thing I’ve appreciated about this project is that it has allowed the university’s property to be used by the local K-12 schools,” says Karl Hans, a specialist with Environment, Health and Safety. “Kids within the larger community get exposed to environmental issues in what amounts to their own backyard. They walk on the bay trails and play in the playground. Doing restoration work gives them a sense of ownership.”

Martha Berthelsen of the Watershed Project notes that “most school programs in underserved communities don’t focus on what’s happening locally.” With limited access to the Richmond shoreline, many of the area’s middle-school students hadn’t ever been down to the edge of the bay before participating in the restoration project.

Berthelsen lists the educational benefits realized by the area’s students: “They become knowledgeable about the marsh’s animals and plants, they gain an appreciation for a marsh ecosystem, and they learn there’s an endangered species right here — the California clapper rail, a bird that makes its home in the marshland.” Environmental education is the Watershed’s Project mission, so Berthelsen’s pleasure in lessons learned is understandable. On the other hand, she admitted to some surprise when middle-school students revealed their favorite marsh-related activity: “They said pulling weeds was the most fun.”