If it seemed last weekend that Glen Park had been taken over by a horde of roustabouts straight out of a 1930s WPA movie, it was in fact something along those lines. Over the course of three days Camp Silver Tree became base camp for dozens of V-o-Cal volunteers working to clear out an overgrown walking trail on Twin Peaks last weekend.
Starting Friday night, some thirty or so tents were pitched, a campfire was lit and dinner was made to kick off the weekend-long work party. A few volunteers picked up guitars, a local band stopped by to kick out a few jams and all night long, the howling of wild coyotes echoed through the canyon. The event attracted families, couples and volunteers of all ages hailing from countless regions around the greater Bay area and southern California.
“The San Francisco event was a big draw because of the camping in Glen Park,” said John “Bubba” from Rodondo Beach, California. “I volunteered awhile back at Muir Beach with V-o-Cal and it was the only time people were allowed to camp there. I also volunteered at the Oak Woodlands project at Corona Heights and we camped in Golden Gate Park. It was the first legal camping in the park.”
Volunteers for Outdoor California is a volunteer workforce that comes together to work on large-scale trail maintenance and construction projects, habitat restoration, and related land stewardship activities on public lands. V-O-Cal puts dozens of volunteers to work on single project for a weekend, getting a tremendous amount of work done in a short time while offering volunteers an amazing outdoor experience in their own backyard. The organization was founded in 2006 and is modeled on a Colorado group founded in 1984.
Bruce, a volunteer from Castro Valley who is working his fifth V-o-Cal project with his wife, two six-year-olds and 12-year-old son said: “It’s actually been my 12-year-old son who’s pushed us to volunteer. He loves the camping, the feeling of being around all the people, of making new friends.”
Bright and early Saturday morning, the crew marched up the canyon to Twin Peaks Boulevard at the base of Twin Peaks. Other volunteers joined in, together totaling roughly 150 workers. They set to clearing out a proliferation of invasive shrubs and plants, predominantly Himalayan blackberry and English Ivy.
Before the weekend walkers had to use the busy road to get to Twin Peaks. That road also serves close to 100 tour buses a day, according to a Rec and Park official. The cleared area will be used to create a new trail.
While the crew worked to clear the area they discovered a stand of native plants including purple needle grass, coyote bush, some native blackberry, lupine and poppies near the beginning of the road.
Some of the volunteers donned a blue cap, a badge of honor that signifies participation in five consecutive V-o-Cal projects. “I just love the exercise, being productive and camping in the city with all these interesting, environmentally-minded people,” said Susan, a volunteer from Livermore.
One of those people was Bam Bam, a seasoned V-o-Cal volunteer from Napa working his 45th trail-clearing project. His real name is Eric, but no one among the hundreds of friends he’s made working projects like this knows that. They all know him as Bam Bam. He earned the nickname from his now famous affinity for bashing rocks.
“I like the trail work. I enjoy dragging people away from this creative, concrete jungle we live in,” he said, resting a giant hammer on his shoulder, his shirt soaking with sweat. “It’s good for the spirit and the soul. It just feels right. There’re no problems. When I go to bed at night I feel great.”
According to Bam Bam, V-o-Cal has a pool of about 700 volunteers that work the 10 or so projects each year, with a strong core bolstered by an impressive showing of new volunteers that sign on for each project.
“I was surprised by the types that come here. I thought it’d be all hillbilly types, but I see a lot of people from the tech industry, engineers, scientists and biologists. I see lots of young folks too, people under 21 and that’s like gold to me. I think people are trying to get in touch with how things naturally are.”
Speaking of young people, some 15 or so college students, all 18-21 years of age from Circle K International, showed up Sunday to help with the project. CKI is an international collegiate community service group sponsored by the Kiwanis. The students hail from all over the Bay Area, supplementing their coursework at schools like UC Berkeley and SF State with some healthy, physical labor in the city’s outdoors. Their majors range from psychology to biology.
By 2pm Sunday, 17 truckloads of debris later, the impressive ½ mile trail was cleared and the community began using it that day: first the joggers, then the hikers, followed by the dog-walkers.