Volunteers work to create a little grassy meadow along Codornices Creek

A restoration project on the Berkeley-Albany border on Monday was part of an effort to create a space for people to enjoy the creekside while establishing greater biodiversity.

Volunteers pitch in during a restoration project on lower Codornices Creek Monday, Jan. 17. Credit: Cole Hersey

More than two dozen people gathered along the Berkeley-Albany border on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to help restore a portion of lower Codornices Creek and learn some history about the East Bay’s only steelhead trout stream.

Most of the restoration focused on creating a grassy meadow by planting a native grass called creeping wild rye, by weeding invasives like lords-and-ladies, and by cleaning up plant-and-tree debris from recent rainstorms. The meadow could ultimately attract diverse wildlife like bluebirds and field mice and serve as a charming picnic spot along the water. 

Susan Schwartz, president of Berkeley nonprofit Friends of Five Creeks, which organized the event, led volunteers Monday morning to the spot near the UC Village baseball fields in Albany.

The area is spacious and open, with stacks of small branches dotting the area to entice salamanders and other small animals. A creekside path for bikers and pedestrians is being built from San Pablo Avenue to the train tracks, and a section of the path will soon run parallel to the first-base line.  

The volunteers on Monday were students from Albany High School, longtime members of Friends of Five Creeks, families going out for MLK Day, and curious members of the community interested in the work of the nonprofit. As they worked, they listened to Schwartz share some of her vast tome of local knowledge on East Bay creeks like Codornices and Strawberry.

Addressing the group, Schwartz pointed to tall willows and bays that lined the creek, noting that these trees had been planted decades ago during a similar creek restoration campaign.

Susan Schwartz (right), the president of Friends of Five Creeks for nearly 25 years, has become a vast tome of local knowledge on East Bay creeks such as Codornices and Strawberry creeks, creating comprehensive lists, files, and articles regarding East Bay watersheds. Credit: Cole Hersey

Anders De Wit, a Five Creeks intern, said that before Five Creeks began to slowly pull out larger grasses and shrubs from the area in the 1990s, the area was so thick “no one could walk through it,” making the small dirt trail alongside the creek inaccessible.

Before Monday, Friends of Five Creeks had done some initial work removing trash, needles and human excrement from the creekbed and the stream itself — a disturbance to local habitat. A few homeless residents had camped out by the water, and the nonprofit had paid to place a portable toilet by the creek. But in October, many people left the site after the atmospheric river forced them off the banks. 

After the storm, Five Creeks began cleanup work.

“We are trying to provide vital revived nature in cities for people and wildlife,” said Schwartz. “As we have seen during COVID, that has been fairly important.” 

Volunteers pitch in during a restoration project on lower Codornices Creek Monday, Jan. 17. Credit: Cole Hersey
Stacks of small branches dotted the area to entice salamanders and other small animals. Credit: Cole Hersey
Volunteers weeded invasive species like lords-and-ladies. Credit: Cole Hersey

Cole Hersey is a freelance writer and journalist in the Bay Area, largely covering environmental issues.