Category Archives: Uncategorized

Egrets in the overgrowth

The historic gardens played a vital role for the residents that called Alcatraz home. The plants softened the barren rock and created purpose for the inmates that tended the gardens. Today, the gardens continue to play a role in creating homes on the island.

 The overgrown vegetation created habitat for bird life. Snowy egrets have moved into the escaped fig tree, Ficus carica, and albizia trees on the west side of the island. These once endangered birds arrived two weeks ago to begin their nesting rituals. Perched in the overgrowth, the birds are first heard and then seen. Unsuspecting visitors stop in their tracks and puzzle over the sounds.

Snowy egret.

Working so close to these amazing birds is a great privilege, and the volunteers do their best to mimic them. Click on the videos below to hear the egrets, and the volunteers with their entertaining sounds.

Beth and the egrets_IMG_0583

Bharat and the egrets_ IMG_0586

George and the egrets_IMG_0584

Marney and the egrets_IMG_0589

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Saving America’s Treasures

In 2006, the Gardens of Alcatraz, on behalf of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, was granted a Save America’s Treasures award to support the rehabilitation work. Spread over three years, these funds provided the means to rebuild pathways, railings, and retaining walls; amend soil and purchase plants; and to return the gardens to their historic appearance that are now enjoyed by the 1.5 million visitors each year.

Volunteers clearing overgrowth

Cutting gardens restored. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

 

This past Tuesday afternoon, I had the pleasure of showing the gardens to the National Park Service grant officer who administered the Save America’s Treasures award throughout the three years of its term. The role of the representative was to ensure the funds were being allocated properly and work was progressing as planned. Based in Washington, D.C., Ms. Carter received quarterly updates from 2006 to 2009, but had never actually seen the gardens in person.

The Save America’s Treasures grant aims to do just that – Save America’s Treasures. Across the country there are many nationally significant sites that need to be preserved for their historical and cultural importance. The Save America’s Treasures is a wonderful grant program that provides a means to ensure these sites are saved. A common misbelief with national parks is that funding for these sites is guaranteed.

One of the requirements of the grant is for the applying organization to raise a matching grant. The Gardens of Alcatraz was awarded $250 000 and The Garden Conservancy, with its partner organization, was required to raise a matching $250 000.

The Gardens of Alcatraz is a great example of success. Without the award, we would not be where we are today. Visitors would not be strolling through cutting gardens reminiscent of the 1940s and 50s; they would not be aware that the gardens provided a home for the families that lived here, or the fact that inmates tended the gardens lovingly and created beauty in a place that focused on punishment and isolation.

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March Showers bring Summer Relief

Water is a precious resource around the world and especially in California where we receive our year’s supply between November and April. This past week was especially rainy and residents of the Bay Area are probably ready for a few sunny days.

This year year to date, downtown San Francisco has received 18.11 inches of rain, just above our normal for the entire year! With another month of winter rains to come, our reservoirs will be full to capacity for the dry summer months.

The rainwater catchment system on Alcatraz is nearing capacity with its current levels at 80% full. This is the second year the catchment has been in use and supplies enough water to meet the irrigation needs of the gardens for one year. Even though we choose drought tolerant plants, everything appreciates a drink to perk themselves up.

I ventured out to the west side of the island during one of the downpours this past week to see the system at work: water catchment. Seeing the rain water flowing easily from the downspout into our basins was very satisfying, knowing that each drop will be used by the thirsty plants to get through the summer months.

Even though the rain can be cold and unpleasant, the dramatic skies provide countless photo opportunities – so grab your camera and get outside.

Alcatraz Island in the early morning light. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

MLK Day of Service volunteers

Volunteers around the Golden Gate National Parks joined in a Day of Service to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, January 17. Volunteers from the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, along with other community members worked in the gardens trimming back Agave americana, clipping Fuchsia ‘Rose of Castile’, and pulling weeds – oxalis, grasses and invasive blackberries – from the laundry terraces. While views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge eluded us in the morning, everyone worked tirelessly in the light fog. With the group effort, three heaping piles of weeds were pulled and hauled away in the trusty garden vehicle and will be composted.

 One lucky volunteer, Sabrina, definitely picked the right place to weed when she found a marble amongst all the weeds. Similar to finding a needle in a haystack, you never know what artifacts will turn up next. Another volunteer working alongside Sabrina demonstrated her luck by finding chicken bones, most likely takeout from the many seagulls visiting Pier 39.

Sabrina holding a found marble. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Finding a marble in the gardens. Photo by Shelagh Fritz

Thank you to all the volunteers that came out to participate in the projects around the Golden Gate. Many of the projects filled up quickly, again showing how dedicated people in the Bay Area are for giving back to their community.

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