Eco-tourists help with Devil's Slide project

September 4, 2008 7:54:21 PM PDT
What do you get when you mix the Half Moon Bay Ritz Carlton with Caltrans? The unusual partnership was put together to educate the locals about their own backyard, with a side benefit of helping the coastal environment.

Caltrans and the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay teamed up this summer to take the curious and generous on an educational tour of Montara Mountain. It was part of a Ritz Carlton program across all their hotels callled "The Give Back Getaway," where guests can do some good while getting some rest and relaxation. The local community is also invited.

Half Moon Bay participants learned about the eco-system, the Devil's Slide tunnel and bridge project, and HAD the opportunity to do some weeding at a Caltrans mitigation site -- a key piece of the tunnel and bridge project.

Ritz recreation director Ben Forchini came up with the idea. He grew up playing in these hills.

"There's been a lot of focus on the tunnel and bypass, but not a lot of focus on the mitigation area, and I actually live in Montara so I saw this mitigation area for years and years and I thought what is that all about?" said Forchini.

From 1908 to 1920, a railroad ran along the fence line of a five-acre filled-in site in Montara. As a part of the Devil's Slide tunnel deal, Caltrans agreed to return it to its original state.

No paying Ritz guests have agreed to trade in their golf clubs for shovels or manicured lawns for thistle and bristly ox-tongue, but Half Moon Bay resident John Reilly did come out.

John Reilly: "I said now or never so I jumped on it."

Heather Ishimaru: "Even though you had to weed for Caltrans?"

John Reilly: "They didn't tell me that ahead of time. That was a surprise."

After a lesson about the native plants, some local school kids helped out, too.

In addition to the satisfaction of helping restore the site, participants get awesome views and some useful knowledge like how to differentiate blackberry vines from poison oak.

"If the stem is harry, it's a berry," said Reilly.

This Caltrans job ends unlike any other, with a Ritz-catered lunch on the beach. The hotel is weighing whether to bring back this same Give Back Getaway next summer.

Related links:

Give Back Getaway opportunities with Ritz-Carlton properties

Information about Ritz-Carlton's latest initiative -- "VolunTeaming" program


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