Teaming up to clean up
by Morgan Carmody
Published - 02/15/12 - 03:31 PM | 3866 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
UCHS seniors Cassie Berta and Mckenzie Forgey work to free a big-wheel from under a cement block. MORGAN CARMODY | Village News
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Proving that it’s sometimes preferable to go au naturel, members of University City High School’s (UCHS) Roots and Shoots club teamed up with Friends of Rose Canyon on Feb. 12 to give native plants a boost in the Rose Canyon Open Space Park.

Volunteers from the two organizations cleared non-native plant species, making way for new native oak trees to grow. They also planted willow and mule fat in some of the more eroded areas in an effort to counter erosion.

The park, volunteers said, provides some much-needed natural solace in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle.

“I love the canyon because I come several times a week to walk and I can pretend I’m not in the city,” said Friends of Rose Canyon board member Gretchen Nell.

The roughly 400-acre Rose Canyon cuts a path through University City, meandering from the 805 freeway west toward I-5 before plunging south and ending at Highway 52. Friends of Rose Canyon has been hard at work preserving the space for nearly 10 years.

“It was initially founded to stop the Regents Road Bridge Project … [but] now we have more of a focus on saving and preserving the canyon,” said Deborah Knight, executive director of the organization.

The group has received grants from organizations like San Diego Gas & Electric and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help continue engaging the roughly 4,000 students within walking distance of the canyon.

“We want to get kids to connect with nature,” Knight said. She emphasized the importance of the work being done in the area. “Rose Creek runs into Mission Bay, so what we do here helps protect the overall water quality in Mission Bay.”

Friends of Rose Canyon protects the canyon from threats to the open space — including the constant risks that increased population and traffic woes pose in the form of widening streets that threaten to encroach upon the park. Aside from the proposal for the Regents Road Bridge, which was stopped in its tracks in 2010, the group has battled other proposals — like the one for a trolley route through the canyon.

“We always have to pay attention,” Knight said, explaining that the organization is constantly on the lookout for issues that may pose a problem to the canyon — and is constantly searching for alternatives solutions.

The Roots and Shoots program, founded by Dr. Jane Goodall and 16 Tanzanian students in 1991, is a nationwide organization that aims to engage young people in projects focused on environmental and social justice.

“I saw Dr. Goodall lecture at UCSD and thought UCHS could benefit from Roots and Shoots,” said Tara Howell, UCHS faculty advisor. The UCHS branch of Roots and Shoots, she said, was a result of combining the former Earth Club and the Invisible Children Club — programs that were both experiencing dwindling numbers at the time.

As such, Roots and Shoots has two club presidents — and 27 student members, with four years under its belt. The club doesn’t limit itself to environmental problems, nor does it focus solely on local issues.

“Aside from working with Friends of Rose Canyon, the Invisible Children branch of the club works to help build schools in Uganda,” Howell said. The group also works with organizations like San Diego Coastkeeper for beach cleanups and is trying to organize volunteer opportunities with the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“I love the dedication of the students ...,” Howell said. “They are very self motivated.”

That dedication was present at the recent Rose Canyon cleanup, as students worked to clear dead brush and trash from the area. The work wasn’t easy — as UCHS senior Mckenzie Forgey discovered when she tried to free a discarded Big Wheel Bike from under a block of cement — but the payoff was worth it.

“It’s worth more than all the gold in the Golden Triangle,” Knight said.

To learn more about volunteer and guided nature walk opportunities in Rose Canyon, visit, call Deborah Knight at (858) 597-0220 or email

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