State fire crews, Lee Vining residents work together to make community garden flourish

State fire crews and Lee Vining community members created an unusual coalition earlier this month and the result is both historical—and edible.

A community garden and a much needed update to the community Lee Vining museum are now complete after much hard work by members of the Cal Fire Owens Valley Conservation Camp, and kids and adults from Lee Vining.

At the southern end of the community’s regional park, Cal Fire Crew #2, under the direction of Captain Scott Heyermann and Captain Denney Conley, gave the exterior of the Mono Basin Historical Society’s Old Schoolhouse Museum a thorough makeover. They scraped away the old paint, and repainted and restored the building to its gleaming best. Captain Conley, an expert in restoration of historic structures, oversaw the reinforcement of the classic bell tower cupola.

“We are now ready to proudly greet the many visitors that come to enjoy the artifacts and displays about Mono Basin history at our museum,” said Steve Barager, MBHS President. “We thank the crew as well as our many volunteers and supporters for their donations of time and funding to make this happen.”
Then, at the north end of the park, the 17 members of the Cal Fire Crew #5 and Captain Conley brought their expertise to the Lee Vining School and Community Garden.

“The amazing result is that they transformed an endless jungle into a garden of infinite possibilities,” said Ilene Mandelbaum, garden coordinator. “You could not have asked for a more hard-working, skillful, enthusiastic and respectful team of garden creators. Our thanks go to the crew and their resourceful leader, Captain Conley.”

The crew tore out the weeds, grass sod, old bed frames, fencing and sheet metal. They dug a “fire line” around the entire perimeter and mulched it, and beat back the wild roses into a manageable border. They reconstructed at least 15 framed garden beds, lined them with hardware cloth to exclude gophers, and filled them back up with dirt.

“Our community gardeners are ecstatic,” said Mandelbaum. “After 15 years of being in existence, this was a long-needed and more-than-we-could-ever-hope-for rehabilitation. It greatly increases the usable garden space and will make it much easier to use as a teaching garden. We now have the potential for scaling up the amount of food we can produce with the school and community.”

The public is invited to visit or participate in the Lee Vining School and Community Garden.

For more information, call Ilene at 760-647-6644 or email the garden at