Watering the Canyon

Rec and Park water truck.

By Murray Schneider

Glen Park News Canyon Correspondent

San Francisco high school chemistry students are back in school and hitting the books, but if any had hiked Glen Canyon Park trails on September 8th they’d have been surprised to see a City Park and Rec truck parked with a hulking 500-gallon tank wedged on its flatbed.

With the bigger-than-life H2O letters stenciled on its back and sides, the mobile reservoir signaled to any inquisitive freshman chemistry student that canyon plants and shrubs weren’t scheduled for pesticide treatment.

H20 means water. Pure and simple.

“Glen Canyon is a natural space,” said Rachel Kesel, a City gardener in the Rec and Park’s Natural Areas program. “Plants need to be watered, especially reintroduced ones.”

She pointed to the grassland that rises towards Berkeley Way, its slope peppered with hemlock, radish and Italian thistle.

“We’ve reintroduced horkelia, checkerbloom, and coyote mint up there,” she said. “Each requires water, especially now because it’s their first summer season up there.”

Glen Canyon isn’t Golden Gate Park, with its sculpted rose gardens and rhododendron dells, each supported by a labyrinthian network of sprinkler systems in the service of gardening domesticity.

Glen Canyon is an urban space tucked in the center of San Francisco, what Kesel, one of its stewards, calls a natural wilderness.

A long-time student of California native plants and a native of Georgia, Kesel acknowledges the salutary impact that reintroduced plants have on the 70-acre habitat she tends each week.

Natural Areas gardener, Randy Zebell, gathering California native plant seeds that will be taken to Golden Gate Park nursery to germinate and later reintroduced to Glen Canyon as a habitat for birds and to prevent soil erosion.

“We gather seeds from existing plants and then take them to our nursery near the carousel in Golden Gate Park,” she said. “They germinate there for nine months or so and then we replant them.”

After several hours wrestling with 100 feet of curled hose, hop-scotching it along the side of chert rock formations that poke out of tanned canyon slopes, Kesel finally rests by her truck, which she parked on the west side of Islais Creek, a pancake terrain that nurtures Islais cherry.

California native plant seeds reaped from Glen Canyon slopes that will be taken to Golden Gate Park nursery for nine months of germination before being reintroduced to Glen Canyon.

“Islais cherry is almost bashful,” she said of the prickly plant that provides a smorgasbord for the canyon avian population. “It won’t grow without healthy amounts of water.”

A gardening cohort, Jenny Sotelo, walked over. “Islais cherry is a bird’s best friend,” she smiled.

The California native plant with shiny green leaves attracts a variety of insects from which canyon sparrows and robins dine.

Friends of Glen Canyon Park volunteer, Janelle Reed, gathering Californian native plant seeds that will eventually be replanted in the canyon.

“Each plant takes a gallon of water,” Kesel said, gesturing to the hose. She turned her eyes back across the creek to the grassland from which she’d just descended. “Sometimes a gallon-and-a-half.”

Kesel secured the hose and prepared to leave the canyon. “Tomorrow we take the truck to Billy Goat Hill,” she said.

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