Bushy Lake restoration celebrated as home for habitat, education along American River Parkway
Michelle Stevens, a professor of environmental sciences at Sacramento State, was walking along the Bushy Lake behind Cal Expo in 2014 in the wake of a fire in the area when she ran into a botanist who was also strolling the path.
The botanist, Mary Moret from Sacramento County Parks and Recreation, was feeling discouraged and upset looking at the ruins, left charred and black from the July 4 fire that not only threatened the holiday’s fireworks display but devastated the native plants and habitat behind Cal Expo.
“Sort of like a little angel coming out of the smoke, (Stevens) cheered me up and she told me that Bushy Lake would rise again,” Moret said.
The timing of the incident was right, Moret said, because at the time, the department was looking for university partners to help manage the parkway through applied science.
They celebrated the years of work Saturday near the Bushy Lake habitat, which sits along the north banks of the American River Parkway in the shadow of the state fairgrounds. In that celebration, the women reflected on the efforts of students and county officials who brought the 86-acre ecological habitat back to life, giving it new life as a vital living laboratory.
But the work wasn’t easy.
With the help of a few grants, Stevens and her students collaborated with the parks department in 2015 to build fire-resilient restoration throughout the habitat.
Despite the restorative efforts over the following five years, a fire once again tore through the habitat in June 2021, undoing years of revitalizing planting, weeding and watering by hand.
Stevens said she was completely devastated when she received a phone call from Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen who expressed sadness that the site had burned to the ground and offered an Anchor Grant for the students to rebuild and replant.
“I know that this project actually changes (student’s) lives,” Nelsen said. “We must continue to fund it. We must continue to support it.”
Along with the support from the university, the project received $350,000 in funding from the California Wildlife Conservation Board in 2021.
While the restoration is complete, work will continue at the site as it continues to provide ecological education for students and the community.
Besides plant maintenance, work includes efforts to help save northwestern pond turtles, cleaning trash, documenting wildlife and creating educational brochures.
“This project is unlike other projects on the river,” Stevens said. “ We don’t have paid professionals, we have students with good hearts and strong arms and good spirits.”