Friday, February 12, 2010

This Saturday: Panhandle Park Stewards Ready for Plants and Trees, Turf and Soil

Dale Danley Ready for Park Stewards Next Work Day Feb. 13th

NOPA neighbors might know Dale Danley better, and more recently, as "Ranger Dale," the native habitat expert who spoke with cyclists during NOPA VELO's spin through the Presidio last month. Long-time bicyclists are familiar with Dale's volunteer work with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition where he served as president of the board of directors (2002-2004). Now Dale has taken on another pursuit: getting the Panhandle Park in the best shape ever. BIKE NOPA caught up with Dale on a rainy day away from gardens, native plants, and invasive weeds to chat over coffee in our kitchen.

What are the Panhandle Park Stewards?
We're volunteers from the community working together to improve the Panhandle Park, to make it more accessible and enjoyable for everybody in the community. We're continuing the tradition of a Panhandle Clean-up, or work day, that happens the second Saturday of each month. On that day, we work with the park's gardener,
Guillermo, on projects that probably couldn't get done without the extra hands of community volunteers.

Why are you getting involved?
When I learned that
Mary Helen Briscoe, the longtime neighborhood organizer, needed to hand-off the project, I offered to lead the group into 2010. I've been living in the North Panhandle neighborhood for 10 years, and hope I have the gardening skills and the neighborhood connections to keep the Park Steward project growing.

Are you changing the name from Panhandle Clean-up?
I'm trying out calling us "Park Stewards" and see what the reaction is. I think a lot of people are eager to do work with the plants and trees, the turf and the soil. I'm really interested in lending a hand to tend the living inhabitants of the park, or planting flowers that my neighbors will enjoy.

How does this compare with your volunteering for habitat restoration at the Presidio?
The Presidio runs a large, successful program for community-based habitat restoration, and I volunteer once or twice a week – pulling the non-native weeds, and growing native plants, in the natural areas scattered across the park. I'll try to replicate some of their successful elements: provide the right tools for the job, cultivate dedicated volunteers, explain the natural processes and how the human activities affect the ecosystem. Also, offer a tasty snack and create a friendly, social atmosphere. San Francisco Rec and Park also runs dozens of volunteer programs, many highly successful, but the Presidio's program is the one I know best!

Will you try to add more native plants to the Panhandle?
I love native plants, but there are several reasons the Panhandle's not a great place for them, starting with all those tall trees that create so much shade. Perhaps the most substantial obstacle is that it's a historical landscape that should be preserved. Secondly, its spaces are already spoken for by different users like picnickers, bicyclists, basketball players, and dog walkers. But there's growing interest in native plants, and people are keen to make our green spaces as beneficial to the environment as possible, so I wouldn't be surprised to see that idea put forth by neighbors and volunteers. Maybe we'll plant natives in containers, for educational purposes or perhaps designate one of the small decorative beds for natives. Then there are those underused islands near Stanyan created by the traffic loops...hmmm! Seriously, though, I have a lot to learn about the park before I can pursue any specific plans.

Any worries about taking on this new project?
The panhandle has some long-standing problems: muddy fields in winter, vehicles damaging the turf, homeless campers. The multi-use path is getting more and more popular with walkers, runners, and cyclists, and with more users,
there's some friction and some calls for new designs. I hope the park's problems don't diminish the fun and satisfaction volunteers get from a good work day. In my ideal vision of how these projects work, as volunteers become increasingly invested in their neighborhood park, they also become more knowledgeable and capable of figuring out solutions that might solve some of these problems.

Next workday: Saturday, February 13, 9 am to 11 am
Meet at the Bulletin Board (in the Panhandle, 1 block west of Masonic Ave)
Wear sturdy shoes (boots the best) to keep your feet dry.

This month, it would be great to have neighborhood volunteers sign up through the Onebrick site to ensure we have enough supplies.

Everyone, including volunteers, can follow the progress of the Panhandle Park Stewards with their new blog here.

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