By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
Martin Luther King Day is nationally declared as a day of service to improve your community. On the mountain, this day of service was exhibited at the Heap’s Peak Arboretum where volunteers gathered, socially distanced, and did significant cleanup of fallen leaves and pine needles, cleared clogged water culverts and did other maintenance at this popular and highly visited part of the mountain.
Each day, hundreds of visitors come to the arboretum to walk the seven-tenths of a mile trail to see the plants, the grove of Sequoia trees and enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
Rim of the World Interpretative Association (ROWIA) President Carol Kinzel posted on Facebook and sent emails to friends and members of ROWIA to volunteer for MLK Day. This small group cleans up after the visitors, keeps the gardens manicured and operates the kiosk for the visitors year-round.
Many responded, including longtime arboretum volunteer Ellie Matrie, who arrived first and immediately began raking pine needles in the butterfly garden. “I like to keep it looking excellent for the visitors,” she said.
Kinzel welcomed all the volunteers on Monday and thanked them for their dedication to the arboretum. Then the workers spread out with their rakes and made a significant impact on the needed work. Kinzel reminded them that being a ROWIA volunteer only takes a little bit of time – an hour or two a week or month, depending on their own schedules – but the difference they make on the arboretum is significant.
“We’d enjoy having even more volunteering because we have opportunities for anyone to do so much in many different areas of need,” she said, adding, “You tell me your area of interest and we have a place for you to volunteer.”
New volunteer Jordan Henderson from Running Springs used to live in Pittsburgh and loves to be out in nature now. The arboretum’s dedicated volunteers want visitors to learn more about the natural environment that surrounds them. Another new volunteer to the arboretum, Richard Parlers, only started in November. He was fixing fencing, broken from animals, visitors and the weather.
Longtime ROWIA volunteer Dee Berry brought snacks for the volunteers and a special cupcake for Kinzel’s birthday, which was the day before.
The arboretum is an excellent nature education location with two interpretive trails. The front part of the arboretum has a short nature trail with an identified native plant garden, trail and picnic area. The longer Sequoia Trail through the back part of the arboretum is both handicapped and baby stroller-accessible and has pit bathrooms. The Sequoia Trail guide lists 25 things to see along the trail.
Many local residents visit the arboretum daily and walk the pathways with their dogs. There are bags to pick up after the dogs at the entrance to the trail.
The arboretum roots began after a 1922 forest fire ravaged the area. Ranger Buel of the U.S. Forest Service directed the replanting with Mary Putnam Henck and the Lake Arrowhead Women’s Club, teaching local school children how to plant trees during the reforestation project, which began on Arbor Day in 1928 and continued into the mid-1930s.
Joe Henck, who developed Skyforest, made some ponds on his property next to this reforested site. Reforestation was continued by the Civilian Conservation Corp, but they often planted non-native plants. Since the Forest Service suggested the planting of Sequoia Gigantica Redwoods, several were planted around the ponds after World War II, resulting in probably the largest Sequoia grove in Southern California, creating a significant draw to the arboretum.
Local forest ranger and schoolteacher George Hesemann had a vision of creating an arboretum in 1984. He chose this reforested land along Highway 18 between Skyforest and Running Springs and made it a reality.
In fact, the prior reforestation was so successful that Hesemann had to clear the thick vegetation just to create a trail through the forest, identifying the many plant species along the trail.
Through Hesemann’s determination, the facilities were built and volunteers worked together to organize the Rim of the World Interpretive Association to maintain the arboretum for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.
After the 2003 Old Fire burned through the arboretum, the trail was rerouted from the burned area, creating the two new trails. Over the decades, thousands of ROWIA volunteers have kept the arboretum operating, including adding QR codes for additional educational opportunities.
“These mountains have such magnetism that it brought me back here after my working life,” Katie Lander, a longtime volunteer and a 1980s Rim High grad as she carried pine needles to the dumpsters.
Arboretum volunteer host Tim Wilcox is seeking another person to help him operate the visitors kiosk during the visitor season, plus there are many other ways to help at the Arboretum. Their mission is “to raise public awareness of and inspire active interest in the San Bernardino Mountains through nature-focused educational activities, emphasizing caring for the National Forest, including the area’s treasures such as Heaps Peak Arboretum.”
If you like the out of doors and enjoy working with or talking with people outside, consider volunteering with ROWIA. Contact them by email at [email protected]. For more information and to see arboretum pictures of the trees, plants and trails, visit https://hparboretum.com/.