CWC is delighted to collaborate with the Watershed Stewards Program, a partnership between the California Conservation Corps and AmeriCorps. In October, Watershed Stewards Corpsmember Zola Nesbitt joined our team to help improve watershed health along the San Lorenzo River by engaging in restoration science, civic service, and community education. Through CWC’s Theory of Change, Zola hopes to empower the next generation of environmental stewards within the Santa Cruz community. Read on to learn more about Zola!

Hello, my name is Zola Nesbitt (they/them/theirs) and I am thrilled to join the CWC team as a Watershed Stewards Program Corpsmember. I attended the University of California, Santa Cruz as a first-generation, genderfluid and queer, Environmental Studies major and was an active member of the International Living Center. Through the UCSC Ken Norris Natural History Center, I was able to develop a strong passion for studying birds, botany, and fungi with the help of impactful mentors and professors. Field quarters and study abroad opportunities across California and Guatemala shaped my interest in environmental justice and sustainable land stewardship. In this field, I use cartography tools like drones, mapping software, and data analysis programs to visually conceptualize the complexity of land stewardship, focusing on conservation in areas that represent the region’s biodiversity and support ecological function. Here at CWC, I can give back to the Santa Cruz community with an interdisciplinary lens and technical expertise. 

I grew up in San Mateo, CA, and I have always had a strong passion for nurturing people, plants, and animals. At Hillsdale High School, my AP Environmental Science teacher Mr. Stallings taught me how to embrace the unknown, ask critical questions, and persevere through academic challenges. With his phenomenal teaching style, I thrived off of his “learning by doing” class activities, field trips, and satirical John Oliver media clips. Stallings inspired me to pursue a career in education and if not for mentors like these, who would inspire the next generation? I hope in turn to inspire the youth of Santa Cruz with the wonders of the natural world and empower them to always stay curious.

Zola teaches students about species they will be planting

At CWC, I’m looking forward to working closely with the Downtown Streets Team and River Health Day volunteers to tackle intensive restoration projects with the goal of bringing our critically threatened salmonids back to healthy populations in the river. Working in a dynamic urban river environment requires a diverse skill set and healthy boundaries. Having worked in food service, crisis management, and peer mentorship roles, I have developed many skills to collaborate with and advocate for marginalized communities. In my work with CWC, I will also draw on my experience in leading teams, maintaining greenhouses and nurseries, teaching field inquiry skills to students, and caring for children. Establishing community gardens and participating in restoration research projects have also prepared me well for this role. I look forward to growing and adapting to new challenges this position will bring.

In my free time I love to go on long drives along Highway 1, stopping at local favorite spots, like Scotts Creek Beach, Arcangeli’s Grocery Co., and Swanton Berry Farm. I enjoy climbing at Pacific Edge Climbing Gym and kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough. Santa Cruz has a special place in my heart and I’m looking forward to building a more intimate relationship with the San Lorenzo River and the community that surrounds it. 

You can connect with me at our River Health Day events or online at I would love to hear about your river stories and natural history observations. Sign up for our newsletter to stay connected!

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