Rock Patrol, Part 2

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A short rocky section of trail.

When I became the Maintenance Chair for the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, I stepped into a role of responsibility that I never thought I would take. But it has been surprisingly interesting and rewarding. I’ve learned a lot along the way, particularly by also volunteering with the trail maintenance team at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Along the way I’ve invented some things. One of them I dubbed “Rock Patrol,” introduced in a previous post.

Since then, I’ve realized that there are two different activities, not one—rock patrol, which is a solitary task of removing individual problem rocks from the center of the trail and infilling with soil, and tread renewal, which is a more systematic effort of rock removal from a section of trail and a renewal of the tread with gravel and/or soil. You more often do tread renewal with a team, but not necessarily.

IMG-2156Today I went out and blurred the lines between the two, as well as pioneering another technique, that I’m calling rock reduction. There are some rocks in the trail that can’t be removed, as they sink too deep into the trail or are bedrock. However, I’ve found that many rocks on the trail can be “reduced” by striking them with a steel prybar and chipping pieces off the top and/or fracturing parts off the side. By using both of these techniques it’s possible to reduce the level of the rock below the trail, and then covering it over with soil. The picture shows the rock at the bottom of the first picture that has been “reduced” to the point where it can be covered.

IMG-2157The point is to create a smooth tread that fails to trip hikers, and especially runners, as they traverse the trail. As someone who has fallen badly a few times when trail running, I understand the importance of removing (or reducing) trip rocks.

We understand that this work can only progress at a snails pace, as each section of trail requires a good deal of effort. But progress it will, and like our efforts to reduce and control invasive species this is a long game. And we know exactly what a long game requires.

Today’s project had a further nuance. If you look at the first picture, at the rock at the top left of the trail, compare it with the bottom picture. We successfully reduced it’s width by breaking the side of the rock impinging on the trail, therefore widening the clear path. Nuance like that can easily be overlooked, but it matters, as it produced a wider smooth trail. Eventually, every inch of trail will have had this kind of attention.

Rock Patrol to the Rescue

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The massive rock we had to remove.

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. 

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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.

 

The March Maintenance Day

IMG-1235Every first Monday of the month we have a standing trail maintenance day. This month it was postponed a week to the second Monday. Today six stewards came out to take on several jobs: Elizabeth Garsonnin, Priscilla Miles, Dan Noreen, Kurt Teuber, the SOT Chair, and myself.

We started with a project to reinforce the railroad tie steps not far in from the Kiosk and parking area at the main trailhead. We used our recently acquired wagon to haul 30 cement pavers in to stack under the railroad ties. We had shims and a rubber mallet to drive them in. That didn’t take very long, so we went on to the next job.

We weeded and swept the steps at the kiosk (see picture). With six people, again the job didn’t take very long and then we were off to the last jobs we had lined up for the day.

IMG-1236Two of us were sent off to the set of upper steps not far below the upper meadow to weed and sweep them. Getting the loose rock off the steps prolongs their life, as it prevents hikers from grinding the rock into the steps and wearing them down faster.

The remaining four of us took on a “Rock Patrol” assignment. There was a particular rock we had in mind that not only was a hazard to hikers, but would also likely cause problems for the trail crew coming out soon to do some major trail work (see “before” picture).

IMG-1239Dan easily levered out the boulder, which came out surprisingly easy, and then we worked to fill the hole with soil collected nearby (see “after” picture).  Since we were so quickly successful, I looked around and discovered a number of other rocks right in the trail that we could remove to create a smoother tread. All told, we probably removed about a dozen nuisance rocks from the trail, filling in the holes.

We accomplished quite a bit in just under two hours of work.

Rock Patrol

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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:

  1. Filling in holes with dirt for rocks that have already come out of the trail;
  2. Removing loose rocks;
  3. Removing particularly problematic rocks (rocks likely to trip hikers and runners);
  4. 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.

P1030369This 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.