Mission Peak Regional Preserve might be among the Bay Area’s busiest parks, but it has some of the best-maintained trails, thanks to students at Irvington High School in Fremont.
For the past 10 years or so, freshmen science students have been pulling weeds, picking up trash, planting native grass and helping restore hillside damage from illegal trails. In all, more than 150 students have participated in the project.
“I can’t think of a better way for young people to get involved in the parks,” said East Bay Regional Park District Board Member Ayn Wieskamp, whose district includes the Fremont area. “They learn to take ownership of the land, take pride in what they do and spread the word to their friends. It’s a terrific project, and it really does make a difference.”
Because of the students’ work, trails at Mission Peak are cleaner, safer and better for the park environment. That’s not an easy task, considering the crowds of hikers that trek up the hillside every week to enjoy the panoramic bay views and challenging workout.
So many people visit Mission Peak, in fact, that erosion and trash have become significant problems over the years. Of particular concern is some hikers’ propensity for taking shortcuts, creating “bootleg” trails that damage habitat and erode the hillside.
That’s why the Irvington students’ work is so important, park district officials said. District crews work hard to keep the trails clean, repair damage and encourage hikers to stay on the designated trails, but volunteers’ help is essential.
All that weeding and trash pick-up benefits the students, as well, said Irvington freshman science teacher Dan Pearce.
“Working at Mission Peak is valuable for students because, first of all, they get to experience one of the symbols of our community and one of Fremont’s greatest resources,” he said. “It's an outdoor laboratory not just because of its amazing wildlife but also for the geologic processes that shape it and the astronomical observations that can be made from it. … Students learn how to protect this resource and learn the subtle ways that people affect the environment.”
The project is part of a program at Irvington called Benchmark, in which students volunteer 10 hours a year on a project intended to benefit their community. Freshman year, the project focus is the environment.
Working in small teams, students select from a variety of volunteer opportunities in the Fremont area, and spend several afternoons and weekends on their project.
At Mission Peak, the students’ work ties in closely with the science curriculum they’re learning in class. In addition to learning about erosion and the role of native plants, the students gain first-hand experience of how humans impact the environment and the importance of conservation, Pearce said.
“I get to watch my students develop academic skills, invest in their community, help the environment, and most importantly gain a sense of empowerment. They prove that they can collaborate with a team, complete project components, overcome obstacles, and make a difference in the world,” Pearce said. “Not bad for their first year of high school.”
Irvington sophomore Andrew Yee spent part of his freshman year restoring illegal trails and preventing erosion on established trails. He said he learned much about how broad environmental issues can affect his favorite park.
“It was a way to learn how the general public can prevent trail erosion. After all, it’s Fremont’s park. It’s our park,” he said. “I also got to meet a lot of people. It was a lot of fun.”
The East Bay Regional Park District is a system of beautiful public parks and trails in Alameda and Contra Costa counties east of San Francisco Bay, established in 1934. The system comprises 119,000 acres in 65 parks including over 1,250 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and nature learning.