Woodland Workout

OAKDALE -- About 100 people spent Saturday in a secluded woodland just outside Oakdale. They left behind more trees and a trail, and renovated another trail.

Many of those who participated in the 14th annual National Public Lands Day never had been to Horseshoe Road Recreation Area before.

Modestan Marcus Suaco, 16, said Oakdale is too far for him to go for recreation, but the Downey High School Environmental Club president was willing to make the trip with his group to help maintain the land for others. The club is one of many that has been participating in the Oakdale event, which for years has been organized locally by the rangers responsible for parks along the Stanislaus River.

"There's not a lot of opportunity to do stuff like this in Modesto. It's mostly city," Suaco said.

Others know the trails that lead through the tall whispering trees to the Stanislaus River as though the area were their own back yard.

Kristen Barrett, 15, of the Oakdale High School Service Club, lives near the recreation area. She said people come to enjoy the serenity of the spot and the river, but don't leave it the way they found it. Even private property that borders the river often is strewn with trash thrown overboard by rafters, she added.

"It's really disrespectful," Barrett said.

National Public Lands Day is meant to provide Americans a chance to learn about environmental issues and the need for shared stewardship of the land. It's generally celebrated with hands-on work. The effort began 13 years ago with three federal agencies and 700 volunteers, according to publiclandsday.org. Last year, nearly 100,000 volunteers participated in 1,100 locations nationwide.

Barrett, Suaco and other volunteers renovated a trail leading into Horseshoe Road Recreation Area from Orange Blossom Road, cut another trail with shovels and put down sod along a man-made pond and planted California-native willow and cottonwood trees near the pond for shade, said park ranger Heather Wright.

Shade helps prevent invasive species from growing in the pond, senior park ranger Jason Faridi said. And good trails help prevent people from cutting their own paths through the woods, he added.

"After a heavy recreation season like we just had, the park's trails look really abused," Faridi said.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.