Toreros take over Swan Canyon

By Matt Hose

While some Toreros enjoyed the warm Saturday morning sun at the beach, others worked to restore a canyon to its natural state.

Outdoor Adventures launched its first community service activity this past Saturday in Swan Canyon, an area swamped by invasive plant species, crime and trash.

The program worked with Ocean Discovery Institute, a local non-profit organization that has been working in Swan Canyon since 2006.

During the trip, ODI volunteers took the Torero volunteers on a tour through the City Heights canyon, describing the nuances of invasive plant species, beautification projects and what exactly a “watershed” is.

Watersheds are drainages from rivers that flow from mountains, and Swan Canyon was one of those watersheds. It originates from the San Diego River and drains into the Pacific Ocean.
However, over the years, invasive plant species have taken over the canyon, and by the time ODI began their work in 2007, the canyon was filled with trash and nearly abandoned by the community.
Travis Kemnitz, a USD alumnus from the class of 2002, is an engagement coach at ODI, meaning that he trains new staff members and volunteers. He said that one of the main goals of ODI is to reconnect the Swan Canyon community with their natural environment.

“The goal of Watershed Avengers is to connect the local community to these canyon habitats, showing them how nature, science and the environment can be relevant to their daily lives,” Kemnitz said.
To do this, ODI hosts one-day events three times a year, to which it invites the entire community to volunteer and learn more about the natural landscape of San Diego in their own backyards.
Despite this, awareness is not the only goal of ODI in restoring the canyon.

Kemnitz said that they also want to connect all of the canyons in the City Heights area together with a trail called the Canyon Loop Trail, forming walking and biking trails for community members to utilize to do everyday tasks, such as going to school and the supermarket.

“[We want to] give community members the opportunity to restore these canyons so they’re a safe place to utilize on a daily basis,” Kemnitz said. “ [We want to] give them a place to enjoy and learn about nature, but to also get from place to place in the community. One of the big visions that we have for this community is connecting all the canyons together so that…you could get from one place to another utilizing just canyons.”

Toreros did their small part to achieve this goal by pulling weeds and laying mulch down in a garden just outside of the canyon. Other volunteers removed invasive plant species and replaced them with native ones. Though it may have been a small part of a much larger effort, Kemnitz said that the Toreros’ help was a vital part to the community engagement of the project.

“With the surrounding community we really want to connect it to the canyon,” Kemnitz said. “So the more that we reach out beyond the canyons and connect to the local community that’s surrounding, the more they’ll be able to utilize it and feel that they’re a part of this effort.”

Overall, the students thought that the trip was a fulfilling experience that was worth the hard work and the time in the heat.
Sophomore Caroline Leinung said that she had never done community service before, but that it was a very rewarding experience.
”I’d definitely do this again. I never really do any community service or anything, but this was cool. I feel like we made a difference.”

Freshman Pitchaporn Jiaravanon, a marine biology major who lived in Hong Kong almost her entire life before coming to the United States last semester, said that she hopes to take some of the lessons she learned from the day back to her home.

“Where I came from there’s a lot of urban development,” Jiaravanon said. “I’ve never learned how people restore a land from invasive species. And it was cool weeding all those out and putting fabric that biodegrades to protect the soil from eroding anymore and then putting a layer of soil down. I think I took that away for the future.”

When all was done, the Toreros had weeded an entire garden, making it look more like the canyon environment that surrounded it.