Weeding out wasps in the Canyon

Lisa Wayne located a Glen Canyon wasp nest. Wednesday, July 6, 2011

By Murray Schneider

Glen Park News Canyon Correspondent

On a sunny Wednesday morning, Lisa Wayne, Rec and Park’s Natural Areas Program Manager, went hunting in Glen Canyon. Small game — wasps to be specific.

Freed from the administrative tasks waiting for her at her Stanyan Street office, Wayne thought she’d enjoy turning her green thumb to unearthing thickets of Italian thistle and hemlock from the slopes above the seep adjacent to the Islais Creek boardwalk.

A nice trade-off, a three-hour respite from the mounds of paperwork waiting for her back in her Kezar digs. Instead, she ended up trading department red tape for yellow caution tape.

Wayne arrived at California Native Plant Pool #1, just north of the Glen Park Recreation Center, at 9 A.M., She was there to give marching orders to six Friends of Glen Canyon Park volunteers who each Wednesday gather to keep the Canyon green, wild and native.

Just then Kathleen Kelley, who lives on Monterey Boulevard, appeared with news. The retired City gardener has spotted a wasp nest. “It’s beyond the boardwalk, past the high rocks,” said Kelley, who retired after 25 years of City service in 2005, much of it in Golden Gate Park weeding the flowerbeds in front of the Conservatory of Flowers along John F. Kennedy Drive. “Silver Tree kids walk along the trail. They could get stung.”

Glen Park resident, Kathleen Kelley, pointing wasp nest to Lisa Wayne, Rec and Park's Natural Areas Program Manager. July 6, 2011.

With the assistance of Richard Craib, president of Friends of Glen Canyon Park, Wayne parceled out duties to her weekly volunteers. Pausing to grab some caution tape from her truck’s cab, she launched onto the trail where she thought she’d find the hornets.

Accompanied by a volunteer, a neophyte to Glen Park’s 60-acre urban natural habitat, she walked past arroyo willow punctuated with rattlesnake grass. “Watch out for that,” she pointed. Perplexed, the volunteer looked at the three-leaved glossy plant she’d indicated.

“Poison oak,” said Wayne.

They walked farther. “Ground nests next to trails are a problem,” Wayne explained to her “We’ve determine a threshold of tolerance for wasps, always keeping public safety in the front of our minds.”

They marched past stalks of thorny Himalayan blackberry and willow overhanging the trail in a canopy of burnished brown limbs where the trail narrowed and was overgrown, a problem she noted.

“We do everything we can to deal with wasps in a non-toxic way,” Wayne said, her companion following in her wake, not as sure-footed as his experienced supervisor. “I’ll mark the nest,” she continued, “then I’ll call IPM.”

Again, the volunteer expressed his puzzlement.

“Integrated Pest Management,” Wayne explained. “We try not to eradicate.” She stopped abruptly and pointed to where hornets hovered above an earthen mound not more than three feet from the trail. The wasps glided about, buzzing back and forth.

The nest looked like mud pie children might mould after a decent rain. Wayne approached it with care. She fished caution tape from her jeans and wrapped it around a tree limb, then retrieved a cell phone from her pocket and punched in a number to alert the team that would come and deal with the hazard so close to where children and dog walkers ambled.

That chore done, she headed up the hill to join some volunteers who had splintered off to work above the seep. Earlier, before she gone off in pursue of hornets, Wayne had distributed T-shirts with Park and Rec logos emblazoned on the front to show her appreciation to her volunteers, the logos that look like Tom Sawyer’s pal Becky Thatcher swinging from a cypress tree in front of McLaren Lodge. The volunteers tried them on, but then took them off right away – they were too nice to get dirty.

Reassembling at Wayne’s truck, the volunteers and Wayne, Craib and Rachel Kesel, another City gardener, stopped to refresh themselves with cookies and water. They watched the kids at Silver Tree, the storied Park and Rec day camp held each summer in Glen Canyon. It’s often called ‘dirt camp’ by generations of San Franciscans for the rare ability it gives city kids (and their clothes) to spend the whole day wallowing in nature.

A mother walked by, picking up her little boy from camp. Following her, a man dressed in cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, a camera hanging from his neck, looked around in appreciation.

‘You’ve never been here before?” the mom asked.  The tourist shook his head. The woman gestured.

“There’s a cathedral of redwood trees over there.”

Just another day in the Canyon.

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