Money-strapped city needs Friends (of Red Rock)

       Since 2004, volunteers with the Friends of Red Rock Canyon have fundraised for open space improvements, led workdays, scheduled interpretive speakers and helped City Parks plan future improvements.

More than 100 volunteers turned out for Arbor Day plantings at Red Rock Canyon Open Space in 2005. The Friends of Red Rock Canyon would be pleased with such numbers this summer.
Westside Pioneer file photo

       Now the city would like the Friends to do more.
       Responding to budget cuts that have greatly reduced department staff, City Parks is drafting a “Volunteer Stewardship Plan” for each of the city open spaces, including the 790-acre Red Rock Canyon. The Red Rock plan calls for increased volunteer involvement, with those interested directed to contact the Friends group because the city no longer has a staffer designated to work with volunteers as it did in the past.
       Red Rock Friends President Karlee Thompson talked in a recent interview about needed work at the open space this summer, including noxious weed eradication, trimming back of invasive elms, construction of the Codell Trail along the near hogback, maintenance of existing trails and removal of the fence between Red Rock Canyon and the new White Acres Open Space. She estimated such needs could require up to three project days a month. “We have a lot to do,” she said. “And there are other things the city wants us to do, but I don't know if we'll have time.”
       Chris Lieber, manager of Parks development and Trails, Open Space and Trails (TOPS), explains the stewardship plan in a recent report to the City Parks Board: “Recent budget reductions have resulted in decreased maintenance and resource management within our open space properties,” he writes. “The dramatic increase in the need for volunteers is readily apparent. However, the need for volunteers comes at a time when reductions in staffing have eliminated the Parks Departments capacity to organize and lead volunteer projects.
       “Given these constraints, perhaps a new model for volunteerism and project coordination is needed for TOPS funded open spaces. Volunteer Stewardship Plans can begin to fill this gap by providing guidance to our Friends organizations, empowering them to take additional leadership and 'ownership' in natural resource management actions. Over the next several months, TOPS staff will be meeting with individual Friends Organizations and Adoption groups to present the Volunteer Stewardship Plans and discuss each organization's volunteer capacity.”
       Lieber added in a separate e-mail his belief that the city cutbacks present “a unique opportunity to engage the community in an expanded volunteer role, an opportunity for those who care about our community and are passionate about our natural environment to step forward and take an increasingly active role.”
       Less city oversight offers a bit of a silver lining for the Red Rock Friends group. The city manpower will be missed, but the group will have more scheduling flexibility than in the past. For instance, Thompson said workdays won't have to be so early in the morning, and they can be set on shorter notice.
       Weeds will be a big part of the effort. “We've got a lot of noxious weeds in Red Rock Canyon,” said Friends board member Don Ellis, who is working out his idea for a “Weed Warrior” volunteer effort that would be in conjunction with the overall Friends work but potentially expandable countywide if it ever caught on. “Ideally, we would train leaders to lead and train kids,” he said. “But realistically, it may only work for some groups and some types of weeds.”
       Noxious weeds are basically defined as those non-indigenous plants that can spread and choke out natural vegetation.
       “I started thinking about it early last summer,” Ellis said. “I walk in Bear Creek Park a lot, and I would spend a half-hour pulling weeds. I realized I could do it full- time and not pull all the weeds, and I wondered how to get community involvement, because the weeds keep coming back.”
       For people interested in participating in Friends of Red Rock Canyon projects, the website will be listing summer volunteer opportunities soon, Thompson said. The web address is redrockcanyonopenspace.org.

Westside Pioneer article