We’re Winning!

endofseasonFor the last five years we have been trying to eradicate the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from the Sonoma Overlook Trail. For the the last three years we’ve also been trying to do the same for the Montini Preserve. Today I ranged all over the SOT upper meadows and emerged with about half a bag of YST. This is a great improvement, and demonstrates that our campaign is making a difference. There is now so little on the Overlook that searching for it may almost be a waste of time, so now I will switch to the Montini, which is likely to still have serious infestations of YST.

This year we also started tackling the purple thistle, which has overrun the Montini but hasn’t yet done so on the Overlook. We focused on getting it off the sides of the trail, as that is a primary way that it spreads. Next year we will begin earlier in the year fighting the purple (YST comes on later in Spring than the purple).

If you want to help out, let me know. I have contractor bags and the only other things you need are a glove and persistence.

We’re Winning!

P1010218Faithful readers of this blog (all two of you, and one is my Mom) will know that we’ve been fighting the good fight against the invasive non-native Yellow Star Thistle on both the Overlook and Montini properties. The season for pulling it runs from mid-May to August. Now that we are in August, when the weed dries out and the seed heads drop off, we must quit.

But I’m here to tell you that we are winning the war. This is the second year that I can certify that all of the infestations on the main properties of both the Overlook and the Montini have been essentially cleared. Judging from the number and size of the plants we are pulling in most areas (see the small plants pictured), we are depleting the seed bank, which can be viable for up to five years.

We could not have reached this point without essential assistance from Rich Gibson, a biologist and a Sonoma Overlook Trail volunteer steward, and the Sonoma Ecology Center’s EnviroLeaders program. Twice, at least half-a-dozen teenagers from the EnviroLeaders Program came out and helped decimate the worst patches of Yellow Star Thistle on the Montini Preserve. Tony Passantino, the SEC’s EnviroLeader’s program manager, has been very willing to bring his team out to support our removal efforts whenever we called for help. And the teenagers who are a part of this program are willing hard workers and ready to learn about the environment and how to keep it great. We so appreciate their help.

Next season expect a call to go out for help in decimating this scourge. And if you see it, please consider helping. The situation gets better every year, but we are still years away from eradicating it completely. We can use your help to make YST only a memory on these properties.


Help Eradicate Invasive Plants in Montini Preserve

Friday, July 22 9:00am-11:30am

Field of Dreams/Police Station Parking Lot

What are Invasive Plants?Centaurea melitensis

Invasive species are, generally, non-native species that cause ecological harm to the biodiversity of an area. After human development, invasive species are the second greatest cause of habitat loss in the world.  In addition to displacing native plants and animals, invasives can increase fire risk and harbor pests.

Thanks to the work of our volunteers across Montini and Overlook Trail, we’ve made huge strides in suppressing the spread of many of the common invasive plants on our park land. However, it takes a community to constantly be vigilant and aggressive in maintaining outbreaks of yellow and purple thistles, harding grass and the other non-natives that threaten the ecological health of our lands.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6f/C._calcitrapa1.jpg/220px-C._calcitrapa1.jpg Come out on Friday, July 22nd and work alongside our restoration technicians to help keep our parks clean and free of the spread of invasive plants. Learn about native flora and the impacts of non-natives on our landscape and enjoy a nice day of hiking. We will be starting at the parking lot next to the police station and Field of Dreams off of 1st Street East.

Also in attendance will be Sonoma Ecology Center’s high school crew of  summer Enviroleaders. These students have been working through their vacation months, becoming young stewards of the land and leaders of their community.


Volunteers should bring layered comfortable clothing, sunscreen, and a a water bottle.   We will provide gloves and trash bags if needed. Efforts to use reusable items are guided by a desire to reduce the overall event footprint. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

For any questions, please call Volunteer Manager, Tony Passantino at  at 707-996-0712 x124 or email Tony@sonomaecologycenter.org.


Once More Into the Breach

IMG_1263Lately I’ve been too busy with a more important project to get my daily hike in on the Overlook and Montini trails. But yesterday I cleared some time and made my way there. I knew that we were well into the season of the invasive Yellow Star Thistle, so I took along a feed sack to pull what I could.

Those of you keeping score at home likely know that the Overlook Trail Stewards have been waging war against this pest, and that war has been stepped up in recent years. Last year we were successful in eradicating it from the main Overlook and Montini properties. We knew it would be back this year, but we also figured that given how we beat it back last year it likely wouldn’t be as bad.

Having inspected a couple locations where it was bad last year I’m happy to say that it isn’t nearly as bad this year. We are indeed making progress, but we also know that this is a multi-year war and that it will require us to be vigilant and relentless.

This war is led by volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, who has called work days for groups to get together and take out both Yellow Star Thistle and Scotch Broom – another non-native that has a tendency to take over the landscape. Without efforts such as these our landscape would look very different than what it should be, and has been for centuries.

End of Season Star Thistle Report

endofseasonEarlier I posted about starting the yearly battle with Yellow Star Thistle (YST). YST is an invasive non-native weed that left unchecked can take over entire meadows (it does not do well in shade). The University of California has this to say about it (in part): “Seed output can be as high at 30,000 seeds per square meter, with about 95% of the seed being viable soon after dispersal. Most seeds germinate within a year of dispersal, but some can remain viable in the soil for more than 3 years.” This is an opponent that is difficult to over-estimate.

Volunteers are trying to eradicate this plant all over California every summer, as we certainly do here at Jack London State Park (thank you Linda Felt and other volunteers!) and on the Sonoma Overlook and Montini Preserve properties. So we are now in the second year of a relentless 5-year campaign to completely eradicate this scourge.

Starting in mid-May, even before it was blooming, I began pulling it on my hikes on Overlook and Montini. Since then I’ve been putting in several hours every week pulling it up by its roots and hiking it out. When tackling a large patch I take a large plastic sack, but recently on the Overlook Trail I have been finding so little (see the picture of a recent haul) that I haven’t bothered to take a bag. Over the summer I’ve racked up at least 30 hours of pulling — not counting the time to get to the locations.


Before the battle.

Last year we did such a thorough job on the Overlook Trail that this year it took much less time to keep it in check. The Montini Preserve was another matter, as we hadn’t been checking it last year (it opened to the public in November). I found several significant patches and one really bad patch (see the “before” picture to the left, it covered the entire area pictured and beyond). I was able to get the smaller patches under control with some diligence, but the really bad patch has taken many hours of work spread out over weeks. Only today did I finish clearing this patch (see “after” picture). It’s sweaty work, and raised blisters on my hand even with a glove.

I can now report that as far as I can tell, YST has been effectively removed this season from the main parts of the Montini Preserve and the Sonoma Overlook Trail.


After, August 2nd.

One morning recently I arrived at the really bad patch on the Montini Preserve with three large plastic sacks that I intended to fill, as I had several times before. I surveyed the patch that I had been working on for weeks and saw everything that still remained. I thought about giving up. I had made a lot of progress and I thought we could get it all next year. Why not just quit? No one would know.

I took another look around.

Then I stooped down and began to pull.

Call it what it is — an obsession.

Battle Has Been Joined, The War Has Begun Anew


Photo by Philip, https://www.flickr.com/photos/21202718@N00/, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

And so it goes.

Today Steward Linda Felt found a patch of the invasive weed Yellow Star Thistle on the Overlook Trail. I had been watching for it, but eagle-eyed Linda gets the prize for First Sighting of the Season (there is no prize, actually, merely recocgnition). With this new information, I redoubled my efforts to find it and indeed found some small, not yet flowering, plants on the upper meadow.

Thus begins the 2015 campaign to rid the Overlook Trail of this non-native plant, an effort that has been going on for years. Steward Rich Gibson, a Biologist and retired Ranger, ably leads the effort. He schedules group work days to tackle it, bringing snacks, gloves, sacks, and camaraderie. We also pull the weed individually, since group work days are insufficient to completely eradicate it.


Photo by Roy Tennant, Stewards Joanna Kemper and Rich Gibson pictured.

Last year we likely had our best year yet, as we continued to pull throughout late Spring, Summer, and into early Fall until none could be found on the main trail. However, we had to leave some very infested patches near Norrbom Road (around the water tank and on up to nearly the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail). We’re aiming to knock those back this year, as well as keep the main trail thistle-free.

Word is that to eradicate it completely takes up to five years of concerted, thorough, eradication efforts. Then vigilance is required, as it could try to re-establish at any time.

Linda Felt is active in the effort to eradicate Jack London State Park of Yellow Star Thistle and she reports that it is already well engaged this season there. So lock and load, people. The battle has begun.

Watch for flyers at the trailhead for group work days. We’d love to see you there.

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!