Tom Wodetzki

June 15, 2020

Three months ago, four local nonprofits – the Mendocino Land Trust, MendoParks, Mendocino Coast Audubon Society and the Dorothy King Young Chapter of the California Native Plant Society – watched the early spread of COVID-19 and reluctantly canceled this year’s Environmental Partners Potluck.

At the event, three Land Trust volunteers – Lenny Noack, Betty Stechmeyer and Tom Wodetzki – were to be honored as winners of the Matt Coleman Environmentalist of the Year award.  Lenny and Betty have long led the volunteer effort to transform the Land Trust’s preserve at Hare Creek just south of Fort Bragg.  Tom has done the same at Navarro Point preserve south of Albion. 

The hope was to hold a scaled-down ceremony at a later date, but shelter-in-place rules got in the way.  Our winners have waited long enough.  Today, we officially honor Lenny, Betty and Tom for their years of service to the local environment and the Mendocino Land Trust.  Each agreed to share thoughts about volunteering.  We hope you enjoy their stories and join us in thanking them for their dedication.   

How long have you been a land steward at Navarro Point? How did you first get involved?

I had been on the Mendocino Land Trust’s Finance Committee for decades. When Navarro Point was purchased and Matt Coleman sought volunteers, I jumped; it was just what I was looking for. It’s been 10 years or so since I started.

Can you describe a typical workday at the preserve?

Removing bull thistle has been our main task, while also cleaning the parking lot and occasionally helping to build boardwalks and stairs and erecting signs. As a 45-year Albion resident, I know a lot of locals and periodically post announcements calling for volunteers. We’ve managed to field from two to eight each month; our workdays are at 10 a.m. on the second Thursday. Before COVID-19, we worked in pairs, one snipping off the thistle flowers and seed pods and bagging them into a large trash bag. The second partner holds the bag open, trying to avoid those nasty prickles, and then digging up the plant so it won’t send up new growth.

Before and after: What changes have you seen since you first began working at Navarro Point?

I feel very good that over these 10 or so years we have reduced the thistle population by 90 to 95 percent. Perseverance pays off!

What is the toughest part about working there? Most satisfying or enjoyable part?

Getting pricked by thistle is the toughest part. And in the winter months it’s sometimes windy and cold, although we don’t go out on rainy or real windy days. The most enjoyable part is spending a couple hours every month on the incredible wild headlands, viewing whales and our local fishers, looking inland at the still-mostly undeveloped hills, and seeing south all the way to Point Arena. Also, the volunteers are a delight, and we get very good support from the Land Trust staff.

Is there anything in your childhood or background that led you to dedicate yourself to this kind of outdoor work?

Much. Growing up on the rural edge of a small Midwestern town. Many vacations in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows and backpacking trips through various wilderness areas. It all led to appreciating and wanting to protect and expand local undeveloped natural areas.

Do you have advice for people considering volunteer work like this?

It’s a great excuse to get yourself out in nature, working with good people. I get much more from my time volunteering at Navarro Point than I contribute. It’s an incalculable gift to me!