On a recent afternoon, Donn Davy could be found doubled over replacing a defective valve at Hamilton’s SMART station in Novato.
Under the searing midday sun, the 70-year-old, wearing boots and a wide-brimmed fedora, wrapped up a day’s work on a nearly complete irrigation system he installed at the station in southern Novato near Marin Gate Road.
Davy is not a Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit employee. He is a volunteer who spearheaded a yearlong campaign to install trees and plants to beautify Hamilton’s barren neighborhood station.
“I heard that SMART had zero budget for landscaping on this big piece of property,” Davy said. “That just didn’t make any sense to me, because I know what the weeds are like out here. They won’t do it. I said, ‘Let’s see if we can do it ourselves.’”
SMART initially planned to landscape its stations in Marin and Sonoma counties. But beautification was deferred due to a lack of funding, said Bill Gamlen, SMART’s chief engineer.
“We’ve been so focused on getting it up and running and getting passengers on the train, we haven’t spent much time talking about landscaping,” Gamlen said.
About 30 residents and the Hamilton Field Community Development Foundation have taken it upon themselves since last winter to acquire and plant 90 oak trees, shrubs, flowers and seeds in dirt plots around the station’s concrete platform at the 5-acre site.
California live oaks and eastern red oaks were planted along the perimeter. The foot-tall trees were donated by Homeward Bound of Marin, a nonprofit provider of shelter and residential services for homeless people and families.
With $2,800 chipped in from local residents, volunteers bought dozens of native and drought-tolerant plants. Residents over five days prepped the area’s rocky soil, bore holes into the earth and planted the oak trees and dozens of coffeeberry, toyon and juncus, among other plants
“So far it’s been funded by those of us who have shown up for all these meetings and shown up to dig holes to put the plants in,” said Paul Herrerias, 61, a Hamilton resident who has been involved in the beautification effort.
Herrerias became concerned early on when he noticed trees and other landscaping were not put in as construction on the station wrapped up.
“When they built the station, they put in medians in the parking lot, but they didn’t pull any water pipe to the medians and, of course, when they floated the bonds, they had pretty pictures with landscaping to go in at Hamilton station. It never happened.”
He said one of the next steps for the project is to gather more community support to continue purchasing plants. He said he would also like to see signs installed that describe the greenery and welcome people to the station.
The group is in the process of receiving a $10,000 Marin County community service grant. But at least another $10,000 is needed, Davy said.
Davy himself put in $6,000, and with the help of a neighbor’s tractor he personally installed an irrigation system. Since July, he has put in up to eight hours a day to trench and install the watering system. Residents have committed to paying to water the landscaping while SMART works with North Marin Water District to get recycled water for irrigation, Gamlen said. The agency secured a water meter for the project.
The goal is to transform the site in three years, Davy said.
“Anything is better than the natural, whatever would spring up there, which is star thistle,” he said. “And this year it’s this really pungent, oily weed.”
The plan over the next two years is to continue planting more shrubs and other flora.
Residents near Novato’s San Marin station also have jumped on board to beautify their neighborhood station, and have begun sketching out initial plans for how they will move forward, Gamlen said.
He said residents living near stations with space to landscape are encouraged to take a similar approach.
“It’s a great way to embrace the station and make it a part of the community,” Gamlen said.