Kudos For the Trail

The Overlook Trail Stewards are happy to have the challenge of maintaining the wonderful resource that so many of us love. But every now and then it’s nice to know such work is appreciated. So it was with delight that we recently came upon this very nice (and accurate!) Letter to the Editor in the Sonoma Index-Tribune:

Overlook not to be overlooked

EDITOR: My wife and I are part-time Sonoma residents, but one of the resources we have enjoyed since arriving a few years ago is the wonderful Sonoma Overlook Trail just on the northern edge of town.

We especially like the combination of shade and sun, forests and grasses, while making the gentle climb to the top. It’s not even a mile from Mountain Cemetery to the peak and less than a 400-feet elevation gain, but the reward is a stunning view of Sonoma and the surrounding countryside you can’t get anywhere else so close to town. Last week we could see the Salesforce Tower and the Bank of America building looming over downtown San Francisco.

Our only minor complaints were that the trail was very rocky and steep in some areas, and suffered erosion both from downpours and from hikers straying off the paths.

A set of stairs to assist hikers and improve drainage.

Imagine our delight returning to Sonoma this autumn to find a renovated trail complete with drain dips and water bars, graded and stabilized paths, and a series of beautiful stone steps making the trail even more accessible and inviting. We prefer going up through the cemetery at the top of Second Street East, but you can drive to a number of accessible starting points and park for free everywhere.

We want to thank the Sonoma Overlook Stewards led by Joanna Kemper, Sonoma’s Public Works Department, the Sonoma Ecology Center, and those 12 hardy young people from the American Conservation Experience – how they moved those huge stone steps up the hill will forever remain a mystery. We are grateful to all of you for making a wonderful resource even better.

Richard Weiss

Sonoma

Thanks, Richard, for taking the time to write such a nice letter. You’re welcome!

Thistle Pulling Season Has Begun

Lately I’ve noticed that Italian Thistle has been coming up, since recent rains have kept the soil moist and we haven’t had freezing temperatures at night. In the past, I haven’t started pulling it until February or March, but I see no reason to wait. When the soil is moist it’s easiest to get it out by the root, and since there is no danger of it going to seed it can be simply tossed aside. Later, we will need to bag it and carry it out, which is no fun.

Although we’ve been making very good progress with Yellow Star Thistle (YST) after half-a-dozen seasons of concentrated effort, and we may actually be close to declaring victory (fingers crossed!), Italian Thistle has, in a number of cases, apparently been moving into the new territory cleared of the YST. This is alarming, as Italian Thistle is even more dangerous than YST, as it will grow anywhere. At least YST is limited to sunlit meadows.

Italian Thistle has essentially overrun the Montini Preserve, so my only goal there this year is to keep it off the trails so it doesn’t bother hikers. On the Overlook Trail property, I will start the same way by first concentrating on the trail edges, but then I also hope to be able to work on the Upper Meadow, as there are clumps there that threaten to spread and coalesce across the entire meadow unless it’s controlled.

So if you’re out on the trail and see what appears to be a gardener pulling weeds, it’s just me, keeping up the ongoing war against invasive species. Maybe say Hi.

 

The Upper Overlook Trail is Now Open!

A set of stairs to assist hikers and improve drainage.

The Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards are delighted to announce that the upper part of the Sonoma Overlook Trail is now open to hikers!

“Upper part” means that you can’t access the lower trail that starts at the kiosk parking lot. But you may park there and hike through the cemetery up to the Toyon Trail, and access the upper part from there. There are also a limited number of parking spaces at the Toyon Trailhead, so alternatively you could drive through the cemetery and park there. If you do, please be advised to be out of the cemetery by 4pm, as the City locks the cemetery gate between 4 and 4:15pm.

Alternatively, the upper part of the Overlook can be accessed from the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail from the Montini Preserve. Some hikers like to park at the 4th St. entrance to the Montini Preserve (cross-street is Haraszthy), hike across the Montini to the Overlook and back (that’s my personal favorite hike). Or, you could park in the parking lot at the Sheriff’s Office and Field of Dreams, hike up to the Spotted Fawn Trail and take that to Rattlesnake Cutoff.

While hiking the upper trail again, you will notice that a lot has changed.

The most obvious changes are new features — stairs, stone-lined drainage channels, substantial rock walls supporting the trail, small gravel that has been used to build up the trail to improve drainage off the trail, and new and substantial drainage channels. This work has the dual goal of both improving the quality of the hike for hikers, including increased safety, as well as getting rainwater off the trail quickly and appropriately, thus minimizing damage that can come from running water.

You will also notice new signs. These signs are temporary, but they are intended to model the eventual permanent replacements. We want to place these temporarily so that we can gather feedback from hikers whether they serve the required purposes of clarity and appropriate information. Please let us know what you think by sending an email to overlookmontini@gmail.com.

Also, as always, let us (the volunteer stewards of the trail) know if you have any questions or comments on this new work or anything else.

Cemetery Walk November 3rd

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS — DAY OF THE DEAD

WALK SONOMA HISTORY THROUGH SONOMA MOUNTAIN CEMETERY

Saturday November 3

10:00 AM OR 12:00 Noon

The Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards invite you to take a lively, informative walk through our historic cemetery with amateur historian Fred Allebach.

Meet cowboys and Indians, ranchers and real estate tycoons, farmers and farriers, carpenters and stone masons, quarrymen, grocers, butchers, bakers, maybe a candlestick maker, and many more!

Here in our back yard, the fabric of the town’s rich history is hidden right in plain sight,” tour guide Allebach has written about the historic cemetery.  “Sonoma had its Natives, then missionaries, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo Californios, Gold Rush and Manifest Destiny immigrants, Civil War refugees, and a Second Great Wave of Immigration from southern and eastern Europe from 1880 to 1910. Then came various immigrants on into the 20th century. All of these are represented in the Mountain Cemetery.”

Your $35 donation includes the walking tour and cookies and cider. All proceeds go to maintaining the Overlook Trailhead Kiosk. The Trail is solely supported by private donations. Questions? email Hope at hopenisson@me.com.

To Register: send a check to Hope Nisson, 3771 Cory Lane, Sonoma, CA 95476. Indicate which hike you prefer — 10 am or 12 noon

The event is sponsored by the volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards and participation is limited to 20 people per session.

 

Being Gently Powerful

You could say that I’m a treehouse nut, as I’ve never understood why most people think that treehouses are for kids. The fourth one I’ve built, is in my backyard — a three story monstrosity that tops out at 32 feet above the ground. In the “crows nest” at the top, you can see over our house and down across Sonoma Valley to Sonoma Mountain, and south down the valley toward Marin. The lower parts of the treehouse were built 13 years ago and the upper parts 10 years ago. Both are slowly being absorbed and warped in odd ways by the tree.

In one spot (pictured), the ladder leading to the crows nest has been slowly bent way out of its straight up and down position. Clearly if it had been warped that badly all at once, it would have shattered. But rather, the tree gently but persistently pushed against it, and it has slowly but surely stretched it into its present position. It is this aspect of “being gently powerful” that one sees a lot in nature. Trees can also break stone using the same technique of very slow but persistent pressure.

In a related example, on a river trip through the Grand Canyon you eventually come to a section deep in the canyon where the oldest rock is exposed. It is a very hard, metamorphosed volcanic granite and schist. And yet the Colorado River has not only carved it’s path through the very heart of it, it has actually sculpted it, with intricate and fascinating incisions (see photograph). These were formed not by one cataclysmic event, but by the very slow and constant caressing of suspended silt and sand by the river over eons. The river is being gently powerful over a very long period of time.

I’ve come to believe that is exactly what our efforts to clear the Overlook and Montini Preserve of invasive species needs to be like. We need to be gently powerful for many years. As I said to someone on the trail recently, “this is a program, not a project.” You could also call it a war, not a battle. But that’s a more violent image that I prefer to avoid. I prefer the idea of being gently powerful, as that is more like what it feels like.

Each day that I can get out on the trail during thistle pulling season I am blessed to experience the outdoors, feel the sunshine, sweat like crazy, and do something that I feel is meaningful. That feels like being gently powerful. And something that feels worthy in and of itself.

So the next time you see one of us out there pulling invasive species, think of us as a tree or a river — gently, but powerfully and persistently, pressing against what we oppose. It, too, will give over time, as all things that are gently, powerfully, and persistently opposed eventually do.

 

Vishnu schist photo by Al_HikesAZ, Creative Commons License CC BY-NC 2.0.

There’s Never Just One

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.