How to Make Friends and Stay Healthy

star thistle removal

Stewards pulling the invasive Yellow Star Thistle.

Being a volunteer trail steward is not nearly as glamorous and high-paying as it sounds. It clearly isn’t all wine and roses. Or even giggles and grins. But it is nonetheless very rewarding to those who volunteer to maintain these beautiful trails and properties we are blessed with in Sonoma Valley.

The Overlook Trail Stewards are a group of about a dozen people who meet four times a year but who also keep in fairly constant email communication about the needs of the trails and the properties they traverse. There is also a group of volunteers (some who are also Overlook Trail stewards), who help out on the contiguous Montini Open Space Preserve. Here are just some of the jobs we do for the Overlook:

  • Lead informational hikes. Some of us are trained as docents and lead groups from local schools on trail hikes to learn about the local ecology and related issues such as land stewardship. Also, we have name tags so when we are hiking the trail hikers will know our role and feel free to ask us questions about the trail or the plant and animal life they see.
  • Install and maintain signs. Proper signage is important for hikers to know their options as they reach junctions. Signs are also used to prevent hikers from using cutoffs that can be unsightly and create erosion problems. On the Overlook Trail, we also have signs that identify significant trees and plants of the area.
  • Maintain the integrity of the trail and the property. We put a lot of effort into preventing hikers from taking shortcuts which can lead to erosion and unsightly degradation of the property. We may also at times need to fix portions of the trail that are washing away or otherwise deteriorating.
  • Assure appropriate water drainage. As the trail is used over time, it tends to create a creek-like impression that rain happily uses to run downhill. To prevent serious erosion, it’s necessary to cut drainage paths on the downhill side of the trail to drain the water from the trail. These cuts need to be cleared out each Fall as rocks and debris tend to collect in them.
  • Reduce and eradicate non-native plants. Invasive species such as Scotch Broom and Star Thistle are found on the Overlook and Montini properties, and must be pulled from the ground by hand. In the Spring and Summer we often will have a work party that goes out with large grain sacks and gloves and pulls these invasive plants to provide a better habitat for our native flora. Individual stewards also go out independently to work to eradicate these plants from the properties. Eradication is only possible over a span of years of such focused activity.
  • Coordinate with local agencies. The City of Sonoma owns these properties, and has contracted with the Sonoma Ecology Center to maintain the Montini Open Space property as well as to serve as the fiscal agent for the Sonoma Overlook Trail. The Chair of the Stewards as well as others communicate with these agencies on a regular basis — for example, if a tree falls across the trail, the City Public Works department needs to be informed so they can come out and cut it. We also communicate with the Chief of Police about violations of the law on the trail (for example, dogs and bikes).
  • Raise money. Maintaining the trails as well as creating such things as stone benches for hikers requires money. We solicit donations from hikers for general maintenance needs and larger donations to sponsor benches.
  • Advocate for appropriate management rules and laws. The trails are governed by City ordinances that are, at least in part, grounded in official agreements with agencies such as the Sonoma County Open Space District. At times these ordinances are challenged by those who wish to change the rules (for example, the prohibition against dogs on the trails is now being called into question). It is our role as stewards to protect the values for which the land was originally set aside and the trails created.

Although that sounds like a lot, and some days it sure feels like it is, many of these activities get us out on the trails and working, which keeps us healthy and happy.  Meanwhile, we get to know each other and form lasting friendships with others who are committed to improving this valley and the lives of the people who live here. And what’s not to like about that? As a volunteer organization, there are no job requirements, no test to take, no application process. If you like what we’re about and want to help, join us!

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