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.

 

SOT Maintenance Team in Action

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Maintenance Team members Kurt Teuber, Priscilla Miles, and John Donnelly with the refurbished section of trail.

Every month on the first Monday, the Sonoma Overlook Trail (SOT) Maintenance Team has a standing workday. Sometimes we do “rock patrol” where we remove rocks sticking up in the trail and fill in the holes, sometimes we pull invasive thistle and cut back poison oak, and other times we engage in more traditional trail maintenance activities, like we did today.

Today a team of four stewards on the Maintenance Team worked to shore up a section of trail that was in danger of falling away, and spread gravel to create an outslope that encourages “sheet flow” of water directly off the trail when it rains. This project was assisted by the remnants of rock and gravel left behind by the American Conservation Experience (ACE) crew who recently worked on three sections of trail to make them easier to traverse and more sustainable.

After the ACE work had been completed, volunteer stewards Bill Wilson, Fred Allebach (both of whom were instrumental in getting the ACE work completed) and I walked the renovated sections of trail and identified the portion of trail we worked on today as needing work. With four of us working, and the materials we needed close at hand, it only took us an hour and a half to complete the job.

The Recent Trail Work

Yesterday the partial trail closure on the Sonoma Overlook Trail was removed, as the work that we had contracted with American Conservation Experience (ACE) to accomplish was completed. They ably reworked three sections of trail that have been problematic. These stretches were rocky, hard to traverse, and presented drainage issues.

Volunteer Bill Wilson competently and thoroughly planned the work, coordinated with ACE and the City of Sonoma (also a participant in this work), and managed it in association with the ACE Team Leader. Volunteer Fred Allebach was the on-site supervisor for the SOT Stewards and the City, and also helped out crushing rock and other trail construction tasks.

We hope you enjoy the improved sections on your next hike!

Partial Overlook Trail Closure Soon

A portion of the City of Sonoma’s Overlook trail will be closed to walkers and hikers for repairs to trail surfaces from March 23 to April 14.

During this period, the affected trail segments are not safe for foot traffic, due to the movement of heavy materials and the need for trail crews to work unimpeded.

Walkers and hikers may still access the Upper Trail’s summit by using the Toyon trailhead in the Cemetery. Park at the kiosk and follow the temporary signage on foot through the cemetery to the Toyon entrance.

The Toyon entrance may also be reached on foot through the cemetery entrance at the top end of 2nd Street East and then following the temporary signage.

The main trailhead and part of the lower trail will remain open for those desiring only a short walk to the junction of the Lower trail with Rattlesnake Cutoff, or who wish to connect with the Montini trail at Norrbom Road via the westernmost portion of Rattlesnake Cutoff.

The Montini trail will remain fully open during this period. It can be accessed via the entrance behind Field of Dreams or the main trailhead at 4th Street West.

Work is funded by the volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail stewards and the City of Sonoma. It is being performed by youth work crews with American Conservation Experience. ACE is familiar with the trail as they performed extensive rehabilitation on other parts of it in 2018.