Austin's Green Mission Teams Adopt the Colorado River Wildlife Sanctuary

Would you volunteer to spend a workday afternoon with a shovel and pickaxe in a poison-ivy infested swamp? More than once?

It started out as just another quiet day at the office. By the end of the day we were muddy, sweaty, covered with debris, itchy — and happy. This was the third Earth Day (since 2010) that a group of Whole Foods Market® Green Mission enthusiasts gathered on the banks of the Colorado River in east Austin for a volunteer project. We were sensibly dressed, with long-sleeved shirts, long pants, work gloves and sturdy shoes. Most of us had hats. One of us had purple hair.

We concentrated on planting trees and removing invasive species like bamboo, with a bit of trash and debris removal tossed in for good measure. All the while, we kept an eye out for the poison ivy that sprawled throughout the underbrush. I was part of an all-female crew that had a few three-year-old bald cypress trees to plant. Karen and I got the low-lying location. Digging out the hole for the root ball was like carving through butter.

The water table was about six inches below the surface. It didn’t take long, scooping out that slurpy soil, to get the tree planted. Susannah and Marisol, our sisters up on the hill, had a different experience. They had to employ a pickaxe to get through the clay-rich soil. We were grateful that a few of the guys came over to help with that one.

A few folks who had participated in previous clean-ups made sure to visit the trees they planted in previous years. I saw at least one chest swell with pride over a sapling planted two years ago. Not only had the young tree survived last year’s extreme drought and heat, it had grown at least a foot.

One of the reasons our Green Mission Team here in Austin enjoys participating in the annual cleanup (other than the fact that one of our company’s Core Values caring for our communities and the environment) is that we have seen amazing progress in the evolution of this wildlife sanctuary. In fact, a few of us helped put up the sign back in 2010, so you might say we have a special connection to the place.

Several years ago a City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department employee identified a valuable wetland on the bank of the Colorado River that had turned into a no-man’s land. It was part unofficial dump, part needle park and part Sunday oil-change parking lot — pretty nasty. Almost every city of size has such places and most of us turn a blind eye to them.

Yet this public servant saw the possibility that the wetland represented and decided to do something about it. It wasn’t even city land at the time. He rehabbed an old City of Austin greenhouse and started growing native tree and shrub species using donated materials. Further bootstrapping involved recruiting cleanup volunteers from some of the larger businesses in the area, like Whole Foods Market, whose employees occasionally come out in numbers to do public service projects.

In a few short years of effort — by hundreds of volunteers — we now see people using this area for picnics, dog walking and general recreation. Presumably the wildlife is happier, too, with less pollution. This is one partnership we feel especially enthusiastic about!

Have you adopted a park or do you volunteer for community cleanups for Earth Day or any other time of the year? We’d love to know how you support the environment with your sweat equity.

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