EL CERRITO -- More than 300 volunteers gave their time to their favorite civic improvement projects April 20 at the city's annual celebration of Earth Day.
Workers were engaged at nearly 30 sites, pulling weeds, removing invasive plant species, sprucing up road medians and tending to community gardens.
Most of the work was aimed at restoring and improving the environment, but other volunteers took on tasks such as helping senior citizens in their homes, said City Councilwoman Janet Abelson, the site coordinator for the event.
"People ask themselves 'What would I like done?' and that's what they work on," Abelson said. "Sometimes just one person likes cleaning stairs."
Sam Krueger, a member of the city's Environmental Quality Committee, was leading 10 volunteers who were removing wild radishes and other invasive plants growing in the wildflower area on Baxter Creek.
The creek is hidden behind a group of buildings across the street from the Home Depot store on San Pablo Avenue. Before it was formally restored as a creek in 2005, it was a ditch and, before that, a railroad right-of-way, Krueger said.
"We're trying to get to some of these non-native plants before they go to seed and reproduce," he said. "This had become a dumping ground and now it's a healthy stream with a native riparian habitat."
Volunteer Helen Dickey said trying to remove the wild radishes proved to be hard work.
"They're planted in rock and you can't put a shovel under them to pry them out," she said. "It's nasty stuff."
El Cerrito resident John Umemoto was leading a crew that was pulling weeds, raking leaves and doing general cleanup around the Contra Costa Civic Theater on Pomona Avenue at Moeser Lane.
El Cerrito Youth Baseball games were being played next door at Cerrito Vista Park and music wafted from a community fair at Portola Middle School across the street.
Umemoto said he's been volunteering on Earth Day for about five years and wants to donate more of his time to civic projects after he retires from his job as an electrical engineer for PG&E.
He had about 10 volunteers working with him, including a group of El Cerrito High School students who said they had been recruited by one of their teachers.
"I like the outdoors, and I was inspired to participate because it's an outdoor activity," said Nai Saeyong, an El Cerrito High junior.
City Councilman Mark Friedman said he and three other volunteers had picked up cigarette butts and other trash as they walked north on San Pablo Avenue from the Albany border and then east on Moeser to the Community Center.
"We probably picked up about a thousand cigarette butts," he said.
Following the three-hour work session, many volunteers gathered at the Community Center on Moeser Lane for a free lunch, entertainment and free seedlings provided by the El Cerrito Community Garden Network.
At the luncheon, Michael Woodman and his partner Joseph Tinner said they found out about the Earth Day project from a city newsletter. They said they moved to El Cerrito seven years ago from San Ramon and like the city's diversity, weather and the opportunities available to improve their neighborhood.
"I volunteer all the time," Tinner said. "If you want to do something for the city, you can."
It's exactly the kind of participatory response organizers had sought.
"Years ago we would do a celebratory thing for Earth Day with officials giving speeches," Abelson said. "When people stopped coming to that, we started the volunteering."