by Sarah Van Roo
Back in 2010, Jennie Gerard and Joel Peter saw that the beautiful new landscaping around Lake Merritt funded by the 2010 Measure DD could not be adequately maintained by existing city staff. Working with the Oakland Public Works Department (OPW), in 2010 they organized the Lake Merritt Weed Warriors, which was modeled on the very successful volunteer group at Morcom Rose Garden.
“Volunteers provide many benefits to the lake. It builds stewardship,” Gerard said, “and this is so important to long-term health and survival of our beautiful waters. Volunteers see how much work is involved in maintenance, and become passionate about the lake and advocates for improvements.”
Their advocacy also was a major factor in the 2020 approval of Measure Q, which collects parcel tax funding to support City of Oakland services, 64% of which is dedicated to parks, landscape maintenance, and recreational services.Gerard and Peter brought many skills and talents to the task. Peter was the original Project Manager for Measure DD and Gerard had been Chief of Staff for District Two’s city council member.
Weed Warrior volunteers are trained by Public Works staff and each other to mulch, weed, deadhead flowers, plant replacement plants, and do general cleanup. It is an entirely volunteer organization, with monthly volunteer groups that scour an assigned area of our beautifully landscaped shores and walkways for trash and garbage. While the Lake Merritt Institute (LMI) focuses on the health and cleanliness of the actual lake waters, the Weed Warriors is entirely separate, and tends to the shoreline parklands. LMI removes trash from the lake, while Weed Warriors undertake a variety of tasks within the landscaped areas around the lake.
“Before each monthly workday, Keary Brink, our OPW Park Supervisor, lets us know where he’d like work done around the lake,” Gerard said. “His staff provides most of the tools and supplies, delivers them and a pick-up truck to the worksite, and then takes it away at the end of our work to dispose of the green waste and litter.” Usually an entire pickup truck is filled with debris by the end of a work day. Reporting to Brink are his crew leaders including Juan Cana-Cruz, the Crew Leader for Lakeside Park. Cana-Cruz regularly loads an OPW truck with the tools and supplies requested, and Gardener Ken McElroy drops off the truck and picks it up. Manual Salinas is another of the crew leaders working for Brink.
Myra Redman has been a volunteer with the Weed Warriors for over 10 years. When she first moved to Oakland and was looking for volunteer work, someone mentioned the Lake Merritt Institute and the Weed Warriors, and she was hooked! “I meet great people, get wonderful exercise, spend time outdoors, and mostly feel like I am contributing to the community and particularly ‘our backyard’ of the lake,” she said. On a recent Tuesday, Myra’s group worked about two hours and picked up 18 huge black bags of trash from just one area.
Those who wish to join a monthly work party, typically held on the last Saturday of every month, can sign up to receive email announcements about workday locations. People who wish to work on their own schedule can adopt a specific planter bed. If you are interested in joining this effort, please join their list for workday announcements by contacting emailing them at this link:
Lake Merritt resident Sarah Van Roo is a retired lawyer, journalist and photographer. She manages the Bee Hotel Garden at the Gardens at Lake Merritt and also does the social media for the Gardens at Lake Merritt, including for the very successful annual Autumn Lights Festival. For the Splash Pad News, she previously authored articles about the Monarch butterfly migration in Oakland, the Autumn Lights Festival and about Mary Jo Sutton, team head of the California Native Garden at Splash Pad Park. She reported on the total facelift that transformed the entrance to the Gardens at Lake Merritt. Articles about the Lake Merritt Institute and the Weed Warriors were published March 2023.