Tripping down the trail today I thought to myself, “Oh, hey, there’s one!” I had spotted an invasive purple thistle plant at the trail’s edge (see pic). I stooped to pull it out.
As volunteer trail stewards, our remit includes not only maintaining the trails, but also helping the City of Sonoma to maintain their property that the trails traverse. This includes removing invasive species such as broom, purple thistle, and yellow star thistle.
Purple thistle season begins in early Spring, which means we are already working to remove it. Later in the season the yellow star thistle will start to come in. Since we’ve been attacking the yellow star thistle for several years with vigor, we are seeing some real progress on eradicating it from the Overlook and Montini Preserve properties.
However, purple thistle is quite another story. Mostly due to years of cattle grazing, purple thistle has essentially already overrun the Montini Preserve. So at this point we only focus on yellow star thistle there. But on the Overlook, we think we have a chance to knock back the purple thistle so we are working on it as well. Since we only began our work on it last year, there is still quite a bit of it on the trail.
Today, as I stooped to pull the plant I had spotted I thought to myself, “Oh, wait, there’s five — no ten, crap, there’s a lot!”
I had momentarily forgotten that until the day when we reach the point of eradication — years, perhaps even decades from now (if ever), there’s never just one.
Each Spring we enter “removal season” on the Overlook and Montini properties. We begin with cutting back poison oak from the trail, as the runners begin encroaching as early as early February. So I was out today doing just that (see photo).
It was encouraging, though, as it seemed evident that previous years of cutting back the poison oak was reaping dividends. I was able to cover the bulk of the Overlook trail in one two-hour session.
After poison oak we will be on the lookout for Purple Thistle, as this non-native has been a scourge along the trail. We just started tackling this in earnest last year, so this year it will likely still be bad.
Following the Purple Thistle the Yellow Star Thistle will be coming in, by early March. That will likely keep us busy until early August. However, progress is being made on all these fronts and each year it becomes easier and easier, and some major patches are essentially already gone.
Once we get all these species under control, there are others we will need to tackle. Scotch Broom, for example, is one, although it isn’t as big a problem at the moment as the thistles.
If you want to help with this work, let me know! It basically takes a contractor bag (which I can supply you with) and gloves, although I frequently pull the Yellow Star Thistle gloveless.
Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that we have been fighting a multi-year fight against invasive weeds. One of them that is both prevalent and absolutely ready to take over every meadow it encounters is the Yellow Star Thistle (YST). We have been working to eradicate it from the Overlook (for at least the last five years) and the Montini (for at least the last three) properties.
As of today, I can report that this year’s campaign is over, and we have triumphed. Last year we found three additional areas that we had not previously been pulling. This year we found an additional one. We cleared them all.
But better than that, we saw this year that areas we had been pulling for several years were now either clear or nearly so. So each year it gets easier and easier to fight it. It has now been reduced so far that basically one person working from May thru July can control it. And subsequent years will be even easier.
I don’t mean to denigrate the threat. Even the new meadow that was discovered this year on the Overlook property meant an additional 8 1/2 bags (see photo, which isn’t all of it) of YST was dragged off the property. But we are seriously seeing progress, and that is worth noting.
But we are also expanding our scope. This year we started tackling the Italian Thistle, which in this wet year had become rampant along the trail. We focused on the trail, and largely removed it, but it also exists in a lot of places off-trail. It remains a challenge. On the Montini property it is so prevalent that it seems unassailable. This is depressing, especially when you know that it will only get worse.
But if you feel inspired by this post, let me know. You won’t be called upon until next May. I have large contractor’s debris bags to hold the spiny plants, and can give advice on how to pull them without serious danger. The only other thing you might need is a glove. And we can make it a group outing that might even have food and/or drink involved.
But be forewarned — if you start on this path, it can easily lead to an obsession. I know this for a fact.
For 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.
Faithful 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.
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!