Toiling in ashes worthwhile for workers, land

Clouds of ashen dirt swirled around the 275 volunteers Saturday working to help reforest erosion-prone land burned in a wildfire last summer. Walking and working the steep land sent clouds of dust into the air.

"I think I have dirt in every orifice," said Wendy Copple of South Shore.

Residents, members of community groups and staff from environmental agencies spread mulch to seed and plant Jeffrey pines in a key drainage area burned in the 673-acre Gondola fire. It was sparked by a cigarette suspected of being tossed from the Heavenly Ski Resort Gondola on July 3, 2002.

This was the second year the League to Save Lake Tahoe focused its annual Forest Stewardship Day on restoration of the area. Swaths of bright green vegetation amid charred trees were evidence of Stewardship Day 2002.

League member Dan Sussman organized the event. He said the abundance of wildlife he's seen in the area in recent weeks -- chipmunks and woodpeckers in particular -- is also proof of recovery.

"It's work, but it's fun," said Sussman of the educational even. "People like getting out in the woods. And they learn about how watersheds and erosion control work."

Copple brought eight girls to help. She formed a service club for girls about six years ago called Earth Angels. She helped Samantha Barns, 13, get water to plant a Jeffrey pine.

"It's amazing once we opened the doors for the girls to do volunteer work how much they love it," Copple said.

"It's fun," Samantha said. "A lot of my friends are in it, and we make fun out of all the work we have to do. At the end, we always go out and get treats and stuff."

Caylen Vetter, 16, of the Tahoe Turning Point group home and five of his friends worked just up the hill from the Earth Angels. They said they volunteered to help protect the lake.

"We want to keep the lake clear," Caylen said. "And make (the area) prettier. Dead trees don't look great. We're out here giving it our best and gettin' dirty."

Forest Stewardship Day included obliteration an old road and the chipping and chopping of wood that created a wildfire risk.


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