After I became Maintenance Chair, I began considering new kinds of trail maintenance activities. Since Sonoma Overlook Trail is a particularly rocky trail, over the past year or so I pioneered what I dubbed “Rock Patrol“. As it was originally conceived, it consisted of hiking the trail with a shovel and a pry bar, levering out rocks and backfilling with soil to remove “trip rocks” and make a smoother tread.
Over time, I added an activity that I called “trail smoothing”, which I conceived of as a more systematic effort over a stretch of trail from 6-12 feet or more. In this activity, we would remove many rocks from the trail bed and fill with soil and gravel, packing it down to recreate a smooth tread. This was devised as an activity for our monthly group trail maintenance work days.
Now I’ve added another activity that I’m calling “rock reduction”. To do this, we’ve purchased a cordless rock chisel/hammer/drill (pictured; click the photo to see a video of it in action). As I say in the video, it is a complete game-changer. I really don’t think there is a rock on the trail that we can’t now either completely remove or reduce to trail level or below.
Given that fact, I’m now open for any trail hiker or runner’s nominations of rocks to remove or reduce. Take a photo of your most hated rock and/or ridge of bedrock that impinges on the trail and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org along with a description of where to find it on the trail. Just do your best; I’m pretty sure I will recognize it. Having nominated it, I will let you know when it has been removed or reduced.
Check out the video. It’s less than 2 1/2 minutes long and I think it does a great job of illustrating how we can now take down even some of the hardest rocks on the trail (many are much softer than the one in the video, which I had originally attempted to take out using a large, heavy, iron pry bar).
Rock reduction is now officially part of our arsenal.
The Sonoma Overlook Trail is coming up on its 20-year anniversary. In twenty years of heavy use, the trail bed can become quite eroded, thereby exposing rocks that can become tripping hazards. Recently the trail stewards in charge of trail maintenance have begun a concerted effort to transform particularly rocky sections of the trail into smooth paths by removing rocks and filling the resulting holes with packed aggregate and soil. We call this activity “Rock Patrol.”
The last two standing monthly work days were dedicated to performing this work on two sections of trail under the Upper Meadow. Today, the section we worked on included a rather massive boulder (see picture) that we dug out and rolled off the trail. Now, instead of that tripping hazard there is smooth trail.
The final result (note the big rock on the left that we removed).
We recently set a goal to create 18-24″ of smooth path for the entire length of the trail, realizing that there may be some sections where this is not possible. Of course those of you who are familiar with the trail will understand the enormity of this undertaking, and therefore will likely also understand that this work will take years to accomplish. We won’t just do this work in group work days. Rock Patrol can also be a solitary activity, as sometimes all that is required to make a section of the trail safe is to remove a solitary “trip rock” from the middle of the trail. That can be accomplished by a single volunteer.
Determine risk: Spring and early summer are high-risk for ticks because ticks are in an earlier stage of their development, called “nymphs.” Nymphs often carry heavier loads of disease-causing pathogens, and are smaller and harder to spot. Tall grass and brush are higher-risk, too, because ticks can easily climb on to hikers.
Wear long and wear light! Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants of a light color. Lighter colors seem to attract fewer ticks and make the ones that do end up on you easier to spot. Lightweight nylon or polyester garments are almost as cool as shorts and protect from the sun as a bonus!
Seal the cracks. Tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Gaiters can add an additional level of protection and keep small rocks and dirt out of your shoes too.
Repel invaders! Consider treating your clothing with a persistent repellent chemical called permethrin. This substance, applied to clothing, repels ticks and biting insects for up to 2 weeks. Some clothing comes already coated with this deterrent. Apply an additional repellent to all exposed skin.
Wash your hiking clothes. As soon as you get off the trail, wash your hiking clothes and dry them in a hot dryer for an hour. The heat will kill any ticks.
Tick check. Showering within two hours of leaving the trail will help wash off any ticks which haven’t latched on. Using a hand-held or full length mirror, take this time to check yourself for ticks, especially checking armpits, hair, ears and behind the ears, belly button, behind the knees, and groin. Be sure to also thoroughly check your children and pets.
Remove any ticks. If you do happen to find a tick on yourself, do not use the old trick of poking the tick with a hot match head until it comes out. Do use tweezers and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull it out. If you can’t grab the head in the first go, make sure to pull it out before washing the bite with a disinfectant. View the CDC’s easy-to-follow tick removal instructions and pictures.
Stay vigilant. If you develop a fever, rash, muscle and/or joint aches, flu-like symptoms or become ill, be sure to mention to your doctor possible tick exposure. Lyme disease is very serious and can cause permanent damage in bones and the nervous system. Tick bites that develop a bulls-eye ring are infected and should be treated immediately.
The crew, minus Greg Taylor, who had to leave early to open his shop. From left to right: Roy Tennant, Michael Studebaker, Priscilla Miles, Dan Noreen, and SOT Chair “Secret Ranger.”
Today six volunteer stewards gathered at the Sonoma Overlook Trail kiosk/trailhead to do the very first group “Rock Patrol.” Rock Patrol as it has been developed consists of the following:
Filling in holes with dirt for rocks that have already come out of the trail;
Removing loose rocks;
Removing particularly problematic rocks (rocks likely to trip hikers and runners);
Backfilling all of those spaces with soil, following this protocol:
Wet the hole with a watering can (preferred) or a spray bottle;
Lay down a thin layer of soil and compact it by stomping on it; and,
Spray lightly again, lay down another thin layer of soil, compact it, and repeat until the hole is completely flush, or even slightly higher than, the trail.
This first time out we were able to complete the beginning section of the trail from the kiosk to the junction with the Rattlesnake Cutoff Trail. Next time (Our Chair proposed doing this once a month for a while), we will tackle the section of Rattlesnake Cutoff from Norrbom Road past the junction with the Overlook Trail.
We were quite pleased with the many nuisance rocks (or worse) that we were able to remove (see picture of three large rocks and the smooth spot where they had been removed — it’s darker since it’s wet).
So if you happen to see a group out there with shovels, buckets, watering cans, spray bottles, and an assortment of other tools, that’s Rock Patrol. If any of the three readers of this blog want to participate, just shoot me an email.
Please be aware, Trail Friends: A mountain lion was sighted on the Montini Preserve this week. Be sure to hike with friends and only in full daylight hours.
Staying Safe in Mountain Lion Country
Mountain lions are quiet, solitary and elusive, and typically avoid people. Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. However, conflicts can occur as California’s human population expands into mountain lion habitat.
Do not hike, bike, or jog alone.
Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active—dawn, dusk, and at night.
Keep a close watch on small children.
Do not approach a mountain lion.
If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
If attacked, fight back.
If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.