RiverTree Volunteers clean up, give back

RiverTree Volunteers kicked off another project in conjunction with San Joaquin River Trail Council in the foothills, and this time, students from Smittcamp Family Honors College chipped in.

Students volunteered their time Saturday to clean up brush and plant a variety of native plant species. Plans for a children’s park and a mini-creek are also under way, located within the confines of the Friant Dam Fish Hatchery.

“The grounds look raw now, but in a few years this will rival the Pathways of our Ancestors Garden at Woodward Park,” Mark Somma said, chief financial officer of RiverTree Volunteers. “We have spent two to three years planting and weeding down there.”

The project is bankrolled by a grant from the state and construction is all hand-work. Students learn how to use wheelbarrows, shovels and elbow grease.

Somma, a professor of political science at Fresno State, is grateful to the volunteers for showing up at the event.

“It’s not like we’re building a lot of parks around here,” Somma said. “It’s something we should really be celebrating.”

Shelby Jones, a 20-year-old Smittcamp Honors College junior, was lowered down a steep slope by her fellow students to spread a mixture of mulch and seeds of native grasses.

“I created little furrows to spread the seeds in, so they won’t be washed away by water or wind,” Jones said. “The best part of this type of community service is being outdoors with nature, laughing and having fun with my friends.”

Johnathan Benson, a geology major at Smittcamp, finds the project to be extremely interesting.

“I want to do some serious research on the mini-creek, or the bioswale as they call it,” Benson said. “Even though this is part of a ‘team’ project, I also want to learn more about the grant process.”

The nonprofit organization has been active for nearly 10 years in the Friant area, starting with founding members volunteering for the Parkway River trust. The RiverTree Volunteers was created out of the frustrations they met during a project with the trust.

Richard Sloan, president of RiverTree Volunteers, organized the event along with Somma.

“During the storm of 1997, we pulled almost 3,000 tires out of the San Joaquin River, and we were told, we could not pull any more,” Sloan said. “There were still another couple thousand tires out there, including hundreds left dangling at the tops of trees.”

Breaking ties with the trust, the newly founded  got to work,  pulling another 7,500 tires from the river, and around 180 tons of debris last year alone.

Their next project is another series of connecting trails beginning above Millerton Lake at Sky Harbor, and meandering up to Devils Post Pile National Monument high in the eastern Sierras. As expected, the San Joaquin River is the common denominator in all of this.

This trail will connect with the trail at the Friant Dam Fish Hatchery.  With more than $440,000 in grants having been secured from the state as well as from Southern Cal Edison Electric, and the launch of this new effort should be coming soon.

You can check out RiverTree Volunteers on Facebook.

“RiverTree Volunteers is a member of the San Joaquin River Trail Council,” Sloan said. “Some of these trails we are resurrecting have been around for over 100 years, and we are proud to be a part of this collaborative.”