Weeding out trouble in Malibu

During National Trails Day cleanup event, city staff express concerns with lack of funding, volunteers 

By Trisha Anas

Special to The Malibu Times

Alongside Encinal Canyon Road sits Charmlee Wilderness Park, a somewhat hidden gem in Malibu that holds astonishing views within its trails — but there’s a growing problem.

It’s become overrun with invasive weeds.

On Saturday, the Community Services Department organized a National Trails Day cleanup event, where volunteers and staff helped remove some of the non-native plants.

Naturalist Sandy Glover said that the invasive species overgrowth has been a growing problem for years because of frequent incidents in the area, like the Woolsey fire.

“Every year, the weeds get worse, and the fires certainly encouraged them,” Glover said. “The frequency of the fires is a huge problem. What’s happening is that the plant community is changing from beautiful oak trees and native wildflowers to weeds, and the weeds are more flammable. It just perpetuates.”

Glover said that it’s been difficult to take control of the situation because of a number of issues, including only having a small number of volunteers participate and lack of funding.

According to Glover, participation has been low because many events were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that has not stopped them from trying to push for more of these events.

“Part of what we were hoping to do today is to knock back some of the weeds, make the trail safe for everyone, get people out here and raise awareness that this park is here,” Glover said. “I hope that these are learning events. We try to take people for a hike and teach them the difference between native and non-native plants. I hope that these are learning events.”

According to Glover, the thistle weeds that usually have spikes and thorns affects not only hikers that pass through, but the wildlife too.

Glover said that the only way to tackle the problem head-on would be to remove the weeds by hand. 

“Malibu isn’t allowed to use pesticides, so the only real way to do it is manually,” Glover said. “There’s a chance that we can get funding for one year-long project where we could do a big habitat restoration project which is badly needed. All of Malibu has a tremendous problem with non-native, invasive species.”

Parks maintenance employee James Fee said that it felt nice to be out of the house and working toward fixing up the areas again.

“COVID kind of killed a lot of the stuff I was doing,” Fee said. “For a while, I was going to Legacy [Park] once a week, and to see actual progress being made or to see the plants I helped plant are blossoming and growing. It was personal satisfaction.”

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day this year was the organization’s 30th annual celebration. 

On the organization’s website, it invited the public to celebrate the occasion by joining local events, taking on a #NationalTrailsDay pledge to leave trails better than how they were found and encourage people to tag their own organizations to raise awareness.

Volunteer and Malibu resident William Mullally said that he felt it was important to help clean up the trails, especially at Charmlee Wilderness Park, because he and his family use them often.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into maintaining trails, and we use this park fairly regularly, so this is just a nice way of giving back to the community,” Mullally said. “I think more people would enjoy [this park] if they actually walked around it. To me, this is one of the gems of the Santa Monica Mountains.”

Hikers are greeted by a large sign on June 4 at the Charmless Wilderness Park in Malibu. Photo by Trisha Anas/TMT.

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