Arieli Gonzalez and Sophia Alvarez, with the help of fellow eighth-grade students at San Lucas School, remove bundles of invasive Hedge Parsley from a Redwood Grove in Big Sur State Park. (Mark Landon)

SOUTH MONTEREY COUNTY — Students from San Lucas and San Ardo schools returned from Big Sur State Park earlier this summer after waging war against invasive nonnative vegetation that, if left unrestrained, would overtake critical Redwood habitat.

In conjunction with the California State Parks, and sponsored by Chevron, the eighth-grade students worked alongside park staff to learn how a STEM-based plan is being used to preserve California’s world-renowned redwood ecosystem. 

As part of this service-learning program provided by The Nature Corps, a nonprofit conservation organization, the students uprooted invasive vegetation, such as French Broom, Hedge Parsley and Sticky Eupatorium, along the recently reopened Pfeiffer Falls Trail. The trail was closed for 13 years after being damaged by the 2008 Basin Complex Fire.

San Ardo School takes part in restoration efforts in Big Sur State Park. (Amy Ardouin)

They also watered hundreds of recently planted Douglas Iris, a delicate iris that grows at the feet of the redwoods. 

“It feels good to help out on such an important project,” said Areli Gonzalez, an eighth-grade student at San Lucas School. 

San Ardo School eighth-grader Benjamin Bolanos added, “The plants from outside the forest could take over and choke out the plants that belong here. If that happens, the animals that live here would not have enough to eat.”

Through this hands-on learning approach, the students ultimately played a critical role in restoring wilderness areas that are essential to sustaining wildlife populations that thrive among the Redwoods.

Benjamin Bolano, an eighth-grade student at San Ardo School, removes bundles of invasive Hedge Parsley from a Redwood Grove in Big Sur State Park. (Mark Landon)

“As a result of the students’ intervention, the redwood grove will maintain its original state; high in biodiversity and resistant to drought and uncontrollable wildfires,” said Mark Landon, The Nature Corps executive director. 

“Our long-term goal,” he continued, “is to use the awe-inspiring beauty of Big Sur to foster a stewardship of California’s parks, increase interest in STEM programs, create awareness of conservation-related careers, and promote activities that encourage families to camp, hike and recreate together in the great outdoors.”

Chevron, who has partnered with The Nature Corps for over 25 years, has sponsored a number of the agency’s service-learning programs in California’s parks. Their collaborative efforts have resulted in the completion of major conservation projects, including the preservation of the General Sherman sequoia (the largest tree in the world), rehabilitation of Yosemite’s Merced River, and the restoration of alpine meadows vital to sustaining wildlife in Yosemite and Sequoia. 

“We appreciate the opportunity to work with Nature Corps to help improve STEM education,” said Andrea Bailey, Chevron’s Monterey County public affairs representative. “Few factors are more important to the future success of communities than having a well-educated population that is prepared to meet the challenges of tomorrow. This enables students to prepare to compete successfully for good jobs with many potential employers.” 

San Lucas School takes part in restoration efforts in Big Sur State Park. (Amy Ardouin)

Nature Corps, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit volunteer conservation organization, was established in 1987 in response to a recommendation by a presidential commission to involve volunteers in the preservation of the national parks. Consequently, Nature Corps has received national and state awards for its efforts, including a Congressional “Take Pride” award for planting 20,000 trees throughout Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. 

The organization offers a variety of youth programs and voluntours in Yosemite, Sequoia, Hawaii, Big Sur and Morro Bay State Parks. Nature Corps also provides companies with all-inclusive employee volunteer opportunities and team-building outings. Proceeds from company sponsorships and the voluntours are used to support low-income youth that, otherwise, would not have the opportunity to visit the National Parks. 

To learn more about Nature Corps voluntours, visit or call 800-774-PARK.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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