Love for the creek

Newly formed Water Warriors focuses on creek restoration

Angel Gomez at a spot along Big Chico Creek where the Water Warriors have cleaned out invasive species to make more of a sight line to the creek.

Angel Gomez at a spot along Big Chico Creek where the Water Warriors have cleaned out invasive species to make more of a sight line to the creek.

Photo by Kevin Fuller

Get involved:
Those looking to volunteer with Water Warriors can visit Butte Environmental Council’s website at, or contact Angel Gomez at

Walking behind the Chico Area Recreation and Parks District Center in Chico, near One-Mile Recreation Area, one might find a completely different scene than a few months ago. Old, overgrown blackberry bushes and shrubs between the path and neighboring Big Chico Creek have been cleared out, and piles of wood chips now block rogue trails headed to the creek.

“The amount of litter has dramatically decreased and the amount of illegal camping has decreased,” said Shane Romain, park services coordinator for the city of Chico.

This is thanks to a new nonprofit group called Water Warriors that’s dedicated to cleaning up the waterways. Angel Gomez, a co-founder of Water Warriors and program coordinator for Butte Environmental Council (BEC), said she and her colleagues decided to shift away from what had seemed to be the obvious solution to making the park more beautiful: picking up the seemingly endless amounts of litter.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we do to address the cause of the problem?’” Gomez said during a recent phone interview.

The group, which is under the umbrella of BEC, started in August with about a dozen people. It aims at creek restoration, which Gomez described as having multiple layers. One part of the problem is invasive weeds and bushes such as Himalayan blackberry, Japanese privet and ailanthus, among others overgrown around waterways, make it possible for people to venture off trail and create illegal camps that are hidden from view. Another part of the problem is a lack of native plants, such as Santa Barbara sedge, which help prevent erosion next to waterways such as Big Chico Creek.

“We want to get ahead of it,” Gomez said.

The group started small in hopes of eventually making a large impact, initially choosing two areas of focus—Teichert Ponds, between Highway 32 and East 20th Street along Highway 99; and the area behind the CARD Center. The plan is to clear out invasive plants and replace them with native species.

The group is working toward its goal with the backing of a city program called Adopt a Spot, which encourages community involvement in the park by providing resources such as tools, volunteer help and a management plan.

“The Adopt a Spot program is extremely valuable,” Romain said. “It helps to bring our partners together and gives citizens and organizations the opportunity to be responsible for their favorite spots throughout Chico’s parks and greenways.”

The city has come up big for Water Warriors, providing pruning shears; McLoed rakes, which are small rakes with bladed sides used for trail restoration; first-aid supplies; gloves; and manpower.

It’s not just providing tools either; the city also is providing a plan.

“Our job is to support their efforts by providing them with a work plan and guidance,” Romain said.

The issue lies with invasive species taking over certain areas, so Romain, who understands the detriment of invasive species, provides guidance on which plants are troublesome in the area and should be removed, as well as suggesting which native species should be planted in their stead to help prevent bank erosion.

“There’s very little native vegetation in there now,” said Gomez, referring to area behind the CARD Center.

Water Warriors relies mostly on volunteers, donations and partnerships like the one with the city. CARD has also stepped up, providing volunteers for the program, as has The Stream Team, another local nonprofit that works at protecting Big Chico Creek. Additionally, Recology has donated bins for waste removal. Floral Native Nursery has provided seeds for the planting of native vegetation. And Chico State has lent hand, providing students from its Community Action Volunteers in Education program (CAVE).

Water Warriors took part in two volunteer days. The most recent one, on Make a Difference Day (Oct. 30), focused on the area behind the CARD Center. Chico State provided about 100 student volunteers that day. The previous was back in September, when about 15 people went out to work on the area around Teichert Ponds. The group cleared out invasive vegetation around a kiosk near the bridge.

In its short existence, the group is already making strides. The work behind the CARD Center in particular is visible and already paying off.

“It has been a great help for us,” said Terry Zeller, director of parks and recreation for CARD. “The overgrowth created a lot of nuisances because it was a place to hide. It’s a better environment.”

The group is hoping the public sees the benefits of its efforts and becomes more involved.

“We want to see the community take ownership of the care of the creek,” Gomez said.

Romain agrees and said the parks and waterways need attention and that Water Warriors’ work will go a long way in keeping the areas maintained.

“Our waterways through Chico are super important,” he said. “They need constant taking care of.”