Volunteers get their hands dirty for Cottonwood Creek restoration


Volunteers with shovels and dirt-encrusted gloves sowed native plants Dec. 20 near the outfall of Cottonwood Creek, east of Moonlight Beach.

Ever since 1993, Cottonwood Creek Conservancy has organized monthly volunteer projects to restore the habitat. Earlier this year, volunteers uprooted invasive ice plant from a steep slope near the creek. In its place Dec. 20, they planted native shrubs, including California fuchsia and white sage. And they picked up trash, too.

The ongoing efforts are creating habitat for butterflies, birds and other wildlife, explained Mark Wisniewski, a longtime volunteer with the conservancy.

“Non-native plants don’t provide much food or habitat for native animals,” Wisniewski said. “What we’re doing helps create a healthy ecosystem.”

To illustrate what a difference the conservancy and volunteers are making, Wisniewski held up a photo from 1991 showing tall, dense thickets of what’s called giant reed flanking the creek. But the invasive reed has

since been removed and replaced by native plants, thanks to volunteers.

With more native plants, Wisniewski said a steady increase in bird counts and species has been observed over the last decade.

“Volunteers have contributed thousands of hours,” he said, adding, “it really helps.”

Beyond its importance as a natural habitat, the creek has historical significance. Flowing beneath Encinitas Boulevard presently, it supplied water for early settlers.

Brad Roth, conservancy project manager, said there’s been a steady group of volunteers over the years who are passionate about preserving the creek. The conservancy usually meets from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every second Saturday, and new faces are more than welcome.

Jesse Giessow, who was there with son Quinn Giessow, said she spotted volunteers at the creek about five years ago. Intrigued, she decided to check it out, and they’ve been regulars ever since (Quinn even identified plants by their Latin names).

Boy Scout Troop 777 was also on hand for the restoration.

James Uwins, Boy Scout trek coordinator, said the troop volunteered at the creek four times this year. He said those in the troop will see “the fruits of their labor.”

“The long-term improvement of the creek is important to a lot of people,” Uwins said.