The Good News and the Bad

Anyone reading this blog is likely aware of the wildfires that broke out over a week ago and are still burning parts of Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties. Our hearts go out to all of those affected — many substantially. Also, all of the first responders, from both near and far, have our everlasting gratitude for what they’ve done to save our communities.

One thing they did was to bulldoze firebreaks in the hills, to set up lines that could be defended and stop the fire in the hills before it came down to burn our neighborhoods and towns.

Today I went out on the Montini Preserve and the Sonoma Overlook Trail to see how they had fared. Neither property had been touched by fire. But firebreaks were carved on both properties, with the Montini Preserve not nearly as impacted. The firebreak on the Montini essentially followed the existing dirt road up the hill, and thus only crossed one trail. That is likely easily fixed with some shovel work.

The Overlook did not escape damage so easily. Bulldozers crossed the trails probably 15-20 times, and in places left substantial damage. Several spots will need to be completely rebuilt (see picture of a portion of Rattlesnake Cutoff).

Because of this, we are closing the Overlook until we can get the trails repaired, and in the meantime we are directing hikers to the Montini Preserve. Please bear with us as we work to recover the trails so many of us love.

The Importance of Trail Stewards

Today I was reminded why it’s important to have people dedicated to hiking our trails and doing all of the various jobs required to keep them well cared for and safe to use. Hiking along the Rattlesnake Cuttoff Trail, from the Montini property to the Overlook, I was surprised to see a tree across the trail (see pic).  I was surprised, as I didn’t recall any storm or high winds recently. But there it was anyway. I immediately took a picture and sent it off to the Chair of our stewards group, Joanna Kemper, who will work with the City of Sonoma to have it removed.

On my way back, I pulled out my handy Leatherman knife, which has a fairly good saw blade, and hacked off enough branches so at least the trail could be used until the City could come in with their chainsaw (see pic). This is, of course, just one of many jobs that we volunteer stewards perform.

For example, Fred Allebach is very active in various physical trail maintenance activities such as cutting drainage channels to make sure water flows off the trail as soon as possible. Lynn Clary has been known to hike his battery-powered Sawzall saw up the trail to take care of an overhanging limb. We likely all pick up trash when we see it.

Speaking of which, what do you think is the most-encountered piece of trash? Beer cans? Nope. Coffee cups? Close, but no cigar. It’s facial tissues. Yep, the hands-down favorite discarded item of trail hikers. And just think of it — I get to pick it up and put it in my pocket. So…yeah. Please don’t throw things on the trail. Just don’t.

We do other things too, such as raising money to do trail work that we can’t do ourselves, soliciting donations for building benches, pulling invasive non-native plant species, cutting back poison oak, and leading school trips. But it’s a labor of love, as we all love the trails and the properties they traverse. And we know that many others do too.

Signs of Spring

Spring is definitely in full swing. Wildflowers such as lupine and California poppies are in profusion, as are the butterflies that frequent the also prevalent Blue dicks (like the Swallowtail pictured).

The trail is mostly no longer muddy (until the next rain, at least), so now is a great time to get out and enjoy the warmth and the wildlife. Just keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes, as they have already been sighted on the trail. Other wildlife to look for include squirrels, deer, lizards, and wide variety of birds, from Red-Tailed Hawks to Red-Shafted Flickers to Great Horned Owls (all of which have been sighted from the trails).

Another sign of spring is, well, a sign. We just replaced the sign at the top of the trail that describes a little of the history of the area and names some of the surrounding sights viewable from the upper meadow. On the Overlook Trail, costs such as these are borne by the volunteer Stewards of the Overlook Trail group, which
collaborates with the Sonoma Ecology Center that serves as our fiscal agent. But anything that costs money to maintain or upgrade the trail and property requires us to raise money through events, donations, etc. If you feel so moved, please click on our “Donate Now!” link in the righthand column. Or, come to our next event at the Sonoma Raceway.

In any case, enjoy all of the sights of spring and stay safe out there!

Poison Oak Mitigation

poisonoakWe are once again in the season when poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobumattempts to run rampant on the trail, threatening hikers with itchy rashes that can spread over one’s entire body (believe me, I’ve been there). So now is also the time when we stewards work to mitigate this threat. In the past, we have sprayed the edge of the tray to kill it off, but recently we have been taking a more ecologically friendly approach by simply clipping it back.

This is potentially dangerous work, but with appropriate precautions one can do it without harm. Last year I got one small spot of itchy irritation that I was able to manage until it subsided. This year (knock on wood) so far I’ve been itch-free.

As I’ve been doing this over the last week I’ve received a lot of complimentary feedback from grateful hikers who know how annoying such a rash can be. This helps make the labor worthwhile, as you know from even just several hours of work you can make a real difference.

Teamwork on the Trail

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Teens and adult volunteers worked together.

You might think that the life of a volunteer trail steward is all glitz and glamor, and no one would fault you for thinking so. But no…it’s actually a life of picking up trash, reminding hikers of the rules, kicking loose rocks and branches off the trail, reporting trees down, and of course maintaining the property in as fine a condition as we possibly can.

It was this last responsibility that brought out a crew of 10 stewards and Sonoma Valley Teen Services members this past Saturday to reseed and cover with straw and jute webbing a shortcut (also called “rogue”) trail. This trail is very steep and prone to erosion, as well as being a hazard for hikers who walk down it in sometimes very slippery conditions. After letting it go for a while we decided that we needed to close it off for both hiker safety as well as to better protect the condition of the property.

Under the direction of Steward Fred Allebach, stewards and teen volunteers hauled seed, straw, rolls of burlap webbing, and other materials to the Upper Meadow Loop. They scraped the soil to prepare it for the seed, laid down the seed, covered it with straw, then webbing, then more straw.  Thankfully the rain held off until the next day. The soaking should give the seed a good start toward germinating.

We are very grateful to have a partner like Sonoma Valley Teen Services with which to work with on this project, as well as the individual teens who participated. If you would like to support the work of Sonoma Valley Teen Services, see their support page.

If you would like to support the work of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, donations are tax deductible and can be sent to “Sonoma Overlook Trail Fund,” c/o Linda Felt, 18782 Deer Park Drive, Sonoma CA  95476.

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Steward John Donnelly tacking down the webbing, with the town of Sonoma below.

Stewards Rich Gibson, Lynn Clary, and Fred Allebach after a good day's work.

Stewards Rich Gibson, Lynn Clary, and Fred Allebach after a good day’s work.