Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

Warmer temperatures have brought the Rio Grande Bosque, the green-water jewel of the Land of Enchantment, alive with cyclists, joggers, picnicking families, fishermen, teenagers, couples and tourists. And no one has a mask on.  Last Spring, Albuquerque was huddled in its homes and now, not having heard from Fauci in weeks, it’s like everyone has been given a “get out of jail card” to once again enjoy the beauty of Spring on the Rio Grande River.

As a way to give back to the Bosque, nine years ago Yerba Mansa Project Director Dara Saville started the Bosque Restoration Field Day, which is all about giving back. Each May and September the Albuquerque community gets together to restore native plants and improve the Bosque habitat.

The Bosque (Spanish for “woodlands”) is a 4,300-acre park that stretches from Sandia Pueblo in the north through Albuquerque and south to Isleta Pueblo, located on both the east and west sides of the Rio Grande. From April through October, it’s open from 7am to 9pm and offers a unique environment in the middle of an arid desert. Large cottonwood trees, coyote willow and New Mexico olive trees create a cool, shady forest and provide habitat for porcupine, beaver, numerous bird species, turtles and snakes.

The Bosque Restoration Field Day on Saturday, May 7 (9am to 12 noon), offers a unique opportunity for an in-person, outdoor experience that joins community members together to give back to the land and the Rio Grande for sustaining life.

“We have two Restoration Days every year – one in May and one in September,” Saville told The Paper in a recent interview. “The Middle Rio Grande Bosque has sustained all life, all health, all wellbeing, all cultural developments along its banks. From indigenous communities to every layered cultural group that’s come in ever since, we’ve all relied on the river and its floodplain, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It gives us everything. It’s the foundation of all life and health for our community.”

“We welcome all ages two times a year from the community to come to the Bosque and revitalize, re-nourish and give back the life that we receive. And that’s what healthy relationships are; giving and receiving,” Saville explained.  “We’re happy to have the whole community come out. It’s a day of giving and a day of coming together and that’s what it’s really about; community and giving back to the Bosque.”

Anyone wishing to participate needs to RSVP — don’t just show up. “We have a large number of volunteers that we manage and we have to make sure we have enough tools for everyone. We encourage people if they have a shovel, a pickax mattock or heavy-duty rakes to bring them.”

Saville recommends that participants wear long sleeves and long pants, gloves and closed toe shoes; anyone who needs them is provided with gloves and tools. “It’s a work day and we want to help protect people. There could be mosquitoes, there’s hot sun and sometimes prickly vegetation. They also need to bring water. Everybody is always surprised how much water they need to drink.”

Organizers make sure everyone has an appropriate job for their capabilities. Volunteers receive a brief training from the City of Albuquerque Open Space on how to do their job.

All volunteers are emailed five days before the workday with additional details. There are staggered arrival times as over 150 people could show up. “It’s a fun time with other community members. Volunteers work in small groups. We try to group kids and families together so that they can have a good time and maybe meet some new friends. I always tell people to bring snacks even if it’s only a few hours. Arrival times could be between 8:30 and 9:30,” said Saville.

Assigned jobs will be centered around removing nonnative, invasive Ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae). Other jobs include raking in the seeds of native plants, native grasses and native shrubs to help revegetate the area and restore the native seed bank and the soil.

“Ravenna grass is a large bunch of grass and we’ve got big ones and small ones. Because it’s a nonnative plant that spreads rapidly, it occupies all the best habitat areas and squeezes out native plants,” Saville explained.

Saville said a group called Running Medicine will be joining the Field Day. “They’re part of the native health initiative and they’re coming out during the morning run and then stopping at our restoration site to help us do the work.”

Formed as a program of the Native Health Initiative (NHI), Running Medicine is based on the understanding that running and exercise are a beautiful and potent medicine for mind, body and spirit. Their vision is to create a culture of wellness through a supportive, loving community.

NHI is a non-profit partnership that was created in 2005 to improve health and well-being in Native American communities. They have supported fitness/wellness efforts including partnering on running races, running camps, and other activities that work to build cultures of wellness in Native communities.

Saville said that when she first started the Restoration Field Day, it immediately grew into something much, much bigger than she had envisioned. “I was so pleased that the whole community wanted to join me in this work. It makes me very excited, really happy and super proud of my community and very grateful to live in this town with all these amazing people who want to take the responsibility of caring for the land.”

Work takes place at an Albuquerque restoration site located along Tingley Drive, south of Central. Parking is in the lot at the south end of all the fishing ponds. To reserve your space at the Field Day contact Seville at the yerbamansaproject.org/contact-us/ with the number in your group, if you’re attending with children, or if you have mobility issues so they can assign you to an appropriate work group.