At 16, Mark Jimenez takes notice of a lot of things his peers and even adults fail to see.
For instance, during a recent walk along Willow Lake near Naraghi Hall of Science on the Stanislaus State campus, he had to point toward a turtle he noticed lounging near the water before his parents spotted it. Moments later, Jimenez looked in the water and said “Look at the bass. There’s one there, one there, three, four,” and he was the only one who could see them.
Yes, Willow Lake has a friend in Jimenez, a 16-year-old Pitman High junior.
In May, zoology Professor Patrick Kelly, just a week after chasing two fishing parties off Willow Lake, noticed a young man reaching around and through the lake’s reeds. Kelly’s immediate thought was that he’d have to issue another no fishing lecture. But he kept watching.
“I watched him work his way around the bushes on the south side of the lake collecting lures and also monofilament lines left behind by some of our local anglers,” Kelly said. “He told me he lives nearby and he has done this before. He said he doesn’t fish on campus and he was concerned about risks to wildlife and the tangles of monofilament line that pose a particular hazard. I was impressed by his haul and I encouraged him and complimented him on his environmental consciousness.”
After telling the story to Mark Grobner, interim dean of the College of Science, it was decided that what Jimenez was doing around Willow Lake was worthy of special praise. So just a few days before the start of the fall semester, Grobner invited Jimenez to his office and presented him with a plaque commending him on being a friend to the University’s natural habitat.
“Whenever I go fishing I find stuff, so I pick it up and maybe I use it another day,” said Jimenez, who added that he fishes for bass and trout with his dad at Lake McSwain, which feeds Merced Falls a few miles east of Snelling. “A couple of days ago I saw a big fish out of the water at Willow Lake and he was dead, and that wasn’t good.”
Grobner added that fishing, poaching and other unwanted activity around Willow Lake remains a significant problem, especially given the lake’s role in Stan State’s biological sciences and conservation education.
“We chase a lot of kids out of there and the faculty in biology is very aware of that,” Grobner said. “There are fish out there and they’re easy to catch but I don’t think these kids understand that there’s a bigger picture here. This is a teaching area, so when they fish or poach they’re affecting our ability to teach.”
As University security and watchful faculty often have to contend with people illegally fishing at Willow Lake, Jimenez has become a symbol of what the lake really should mean to everybody on campus.
He knows it’s not a swimming hole or a place to bother the turtles, it’s a small slice of nature tucked away on a busy campus — and should stay that way.