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California Stewards Nurture Natives

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor

Landscape architect Guy Stivers stands with Bolsa Chica Stewards founder Kim Kolpin at the Huntington Beach, Calif. With husband Thierry Kolpin, Kim signed Stivers up for the volunteer effort 11 years and 8,000 plantings ago.

Eleven years spent planning and planting at one of Southern California's last coastal wetlands have paid off for landscape architect Guy Stivers.

This autumn, close to 8,000 native shrubs were in the ground and growing at Bolsa Chica, near Huntington Beach, Calif. What started as a chance meeting has grown into an effort that draws several hundred volunteers most months, bringing close to 10,000 people to the open space since the group launched more than a decade ago.

"Back then, I thought I'd work on a restoration plan for about six months," Stivers said recently. "But it turned into a passion."

Along the way, Stivers learned lessons that would influence his career path. The work at Bolsa Chica showed him that a long-term investment in a neglected site can show considerable dividends down the line.

"One of the main things I've learned is that sustainable landscapes don't happen on paper and they don't happen during construction," he said. "Sustainability is something that happens years later when the stewards and land managers and urban foresters make it happen. You need to build it, but you also need people with a passion."

Seeing volunteers make it happen nudged Stivers in the maintenance and sustainability direction in his own career. He became a California Certified Urban Forester and recently joined the engineering and environmental consulting firm Dudek & Associates, Inc. in that capacity.

Most of the Stewards' plantings have taken place on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the lower left of the map. Nearby Rabbit Island is a manmade structure completed earlier this year.

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Working for his own firm, Stivers recently supervised plantings along Los Angeles' Orange Line, a 14-mile bus-only connection between North Hollywood and Woodland Hills.

Bolsa Chica remains a top priority, however. The next year will see continued plantings of native shrubs like eriogonum, salvia, artemisia and others. Over the next decade, however, other opportunities may open up.

Stivers would like to try establishing coast live oak, California sycamore and Torrey pine in a zone that lies farther from the coastline. Whichever direction the plan takes, volunteers will remain essential for watering, fertilizing and monitoring the juvenile plants.

Decades of farming on the site have scraped away topsoil, making it difficult for native shrubs to compete with weed species, Stivers says.

The momentum the group has gathered makes it likely that the Stewards will succeed in transforming and restoring the land at Bolsa Chica. Stivers participation means that the project is much more than a feel-good effort.

"Guy brings a unique vision and an expert understanding to the project," Kim Kolpin said. "It's always exciting, and I know we're on the right track when he's happy."

Learn more about the Bolsa Chica Stewards and the Bolsa Chica Land Trust at

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December 14, 2019, 7:53 am PDT

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