Petaluma park's protectors

When Gerald and Mary Edith Moore take even a casual walk around the trails at Petaluma's popular Shollenberger Park and the adjacent Ellis Creek wetlands, they see work to do.

"Gerald, we've got to get rid of that invasive plant," Mary Edith Moore said on Thursday afternoon, pointing to a tuft of pampas grass growing by the edge of a trail.

She was recovering from having two small cysts removed from her eyelid, so her husband replied, "When you get your stitches removed, we'll come and wrestle that out."

It's the only pampas grass left in the area, part of a campaign that the couple, in their 70s, have led to remove unwanted species at Shollenberger Park and replace them with native ones.

The Moores estimate that they each spend 25 to 40 hours a week in their efforts at the wetlands. That includes everything from wading into the water to pull out weeds to stocking brochure racks to teaching new docents how to lead educational walks.

For the past year, they've organized a twice-monthly "bucket brigade" to truck in water and irrigate newly installed native plants.

The two say they have been volunteering at Shollenberger since it became a park in 1996. Later, they helped lead a successful campaign to have the city include a wetlands component in the new water recycling facility at Ellis Creek.

They've spent so much time at the park they can't walk far without meeting someone they know. Striding together down the trail, they've become a familiar sight: both are thin, with broad-brimmed hats, fleece jackets and jeans; the taller Gerald leans down to listen as the petite Mary Edith points out an interesting bird or plant.

The Moores originally met in Kentucky through their work: They were both biochemists who did medical research with the Army. That work brought them to San Francisco, and they moved to Petaluma in 1977 because they could afford to buy a home there.

Gerald Moore has been chairman of the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance, a committee of the Madrone Audubon Society that spearheads education and rehabilitation at Petaluma's wetlands, since 2003. Mary Edith is secretary but functions more like a cochairperson, putting in as much work as her husband.

The couple say they have a lot of help in their efforts: An educational chairwoman and senior docent help organize tours and trainings and about three dozen volunteers assist with restoration projects.

"We're blessed with a lot of really great volunteers, but (Gerald and Mary Edith) absolutely epitomize all that is good about volunteerism," said Petaluma's Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun.

He said that when he arrived in the city as director of parks and recreation in 2007, the Moores took it upon themselves to meet Brodhun as ambassadors of the park.

"They came not with a list of things they needed but to say hello," Brodhun said.

"They don't just point out problems. They always come with solutions," he said.

Brodhun added that the Moores spearhead work at the park that the city simply doesn't have the resources to do.