Starr King’s board meets every month at the Potrero Branch library, and encourages public participation.

July 2014

Starr King Open Space Needs Donations, Volunteers

Keith Burbank

The nonprofit that owns Starr King Open Space needs volunteers and money to safeguard the space’s future, goals discussed at an annual meeting held earlier this summer at Starr King Elementary School. The organization’s nine board members are hard pressed to juggle their work, family, and volunteer responsibilities. They need help with grant writing, land stewardship and fundraising. 

“We had a great turn out for the meeting, and the moral of the story is that we’re functioning, cohesive and supportive,” said board member Julie Shumate. “Our vulnerability lies in our limited monetary resources, so we’ll be doubling our community outreach and fundraising efforts in the next year.” The group is paying its bills, but has nothing set aside for a rainy day. 

The nonprofit has several items on its wish list. Roughly $6,000 may be needed to repair sidewalks adjacent to the Open Space, which were tagged by the San Francisco Department of Public Works. Board members have long wanted money for goats that would graze the land to reduce the number of invasive plants and foxtails, though the idea is not without controversy. A meeting attendee cited an instance in which goats turned a meadow into a field of thistles. About two years ago, two shepherds, a trailer, and a herd of goats cost $5,500 to rent.

“They eat absolutely everything,” said board member Webb Green, of the goats. Native plants and some invasives – species that were brought to the Bay Area from outside the region – will grow back, “but it would be a big head start toward getting rid of the invasives,” a top objective of the nonprofit. As the name suggests, invasives invade an area and compete with native species for water and nutrients, sometimes killing them off. 

Given to Potrero Hill residents about 30 years ago by the developer of an adjacent housing complex, Starr King Open Space is owned by a nonprofit corporation. According to its website, the space isn’t a park, but a wildland for animals and plants, and a place for exploration and tranquility. Many Potrero Hill residents are unaware of who’s responsible for the land, and its purpose. The board wants to raise community awareness, which would trigger the ability to raise money and attract volunteers.

“We have this lovely three acres,” said Tom Phillips, a Carolina Street resident who stressed the land was “uniquely given” to Potrero Hill. As private land, Phillips said it’s important that community members take care of it. Phillips has volunteered to plant native grasses and other species. Plants unique to the area are being propagated, a focus of the nonprofit’s land stewardship, according to Phillips.

The board hopes to recruit dog owners to help with stewardship, since they represent the largest population of Starr King Open Space visitors. Dogs and their owners would benefit from any improvements, Shumate said. “When we see them…we’re going to ask them for help.” Though the City has about 200 parks, Starr King Open Space is only one of 28 legal, off-leash canine areas. 

“We have to get ahead of the curve,” Shumate said. A visitor breaking a leg, for example, would force the nonprofit to pay a deductible. “We’re vulnerable,” she said. “But we all love this space and we’re willing to work for it. We just want help.”

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