Mount Diablo's trails are a staple for hikers and bikers in the San Ramon Valley. But while the area is known for recreation and relaxation, Monte Vista High School's mountain biking team has found themselves called upon to take on another challenge, besides navigating the rugged terrain.
Aadi Gujral, a Monte Vista junior and member of the school's mountain biking team, said that it was a "repeated painful encounter with a thorny plant with yellow flowers" that inspired him to find out more about invasive species on the trails he and his teammates frequent.
"This weed is known as the Yellow Star Thistle, and is a bigger problem than just a scratching nuisance for Mt. Diablo bike riders and hikers," Gujral wrote in an upcoming blog post.
Gujral said that upon researching the plant further, he learned that it was classified as one of the most invasive weeds in the state, leading to the deterioration of more than 25% of land in the state, according to the California Exotic Pest Plant Council. The plant also leeches water from the soil, making it particularly troublesome for drought-stricken areas in the state.
The invasive thistle species poses health threats to animals who consume it, and is known for depleting nutrients from the soil it grows in.
"I've always strongly felt that youth have a responsibility towards our environment," Gujral wrote. "I learned that the options to deal with these invasive plants are somewhat limited. While there are herbicides such as Round Up that effectively kill these weeds, these chemicals are toxic and cannot be used near the accessible trails."
"The most effective way to deal with it was to just pull these out," Gujral continued. "The park authorities struggle to keep on top of this with a shortage of manpower and resources and were happy to get any help they can get."
Gujral and his teammates took to the trails July 9 to tackle the invasive plant head-on, and bolster the California State Parks system's limited resources, alongside environmental scientists working for the parks system.
"Today, it seems as if we're constantly bombarded with messages telling us to think for ourselves and to care for ourselves before others, perhaps most clear in the 'self-care' movement that has taken over corners of the internet," Gujral said. "While it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and mental health, youth have a very important role to play for society. When you volunteer, you do many good things for your community."
Gujral and his teammates are seeking to incorporate other high school groups and community members into their next volunteer efforts at Mount Diablo. More information is available by emailing [email protected]