Volunteers spend MLK Junior day planting trees near Millerton Lake

January 22, 2013 12:03:27 AM PST
Spring planting season is coming early and the already green, rolling foothills east of Fresno, are getting a little greener.

10 year old Devyione Cunningham was among dozens of volunteers out digging in the dirt near Millerton Lake.

"We're planting plants and trees like willows." Cunningham said.

This project to plant trees along Little Sheep Creek it part of the much bigger effort to restore the entire San Joaquin River ecosystem, and it also reminds folks the rich natural environment in their own back yard.

Steve Starcher of the San Joaquin River Stewardship program is overseeing the project.

"So much of the foothill area was heavily vegetated but what happened over time is they were so heavily grazed vegetation went away and now we've come to understand more the value of healthy aquatic ecosystems and now we are trying to bring those back," Starcher said.

Starcher says the plantings here are designed to re-create the natural landscape that was here before cattle grazed this land bare. The cattle are still here so wire cages are protecting the plantings. Once they've grown the vegetation will help clean the water that flows into the river, and benefit the salmon spawning areas which will be reintroduced into the river in the coming years.

The trees will also provide habitat for native birds and wildlife. The property adjacent to Millerton Lake State Park is part of the Hallowell Ranch. Owner Coke Hallowell partnered with the Department of Agriculture to finance the 500 trees and metal cages.

"So in about 20 years you will be able to see a forested creek along here," Starcher said.

Hallowell is encouraged by the volunteer's efforts

"It's wonderful seeing them because they are learning as they are doing it. They are doing the service but then they are learning something that will stick with them the rest of their lives.

14 year old Jamie Hellwig, one of the volunteers said, "I think it's really exciting that so many people are out here volunteering and planting trees. It's nice to be outdoors."

She and her friend 13 year old Hanna Wimer came down from Coarsegold to do their part.

"It feels pretty good to help out instead of polluting," Hellwig said.