Being a volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail steward is potentially a very diverse job. It may include arranging and managing fundraising events, organizing weekly hikes, developing, producing, and installing signs and interpretational materials, cutting water bars (ruts to direct water off the trail), writing grants to get funds to re-route and rebuild the trail, pulling invasive species, cutting branches intruding on the trail, or who knows what else. Let’s just say it’s a diverse set of potential responsibilities, and no single steward does them all. We tend to specialize.
Thankfully, we have quite a large group of stewards of the Sonoma Overlook Trail, so we have people who bring all of these skills and more to our local trail system. We don’t all swing into action at the same moment; it may be quiet for a while and then a steward or three might step up when their particular skills and talents are needed. We all have something to give.
On this particular day, a steward who calls herself “Secret Ranger,” and who is our current Chair, brought out our recently purchased pole saw to cut some limbs off a low-hanging tree branch to make sure people can safely pass underneath it. On this same trip, we also visited the Montini Preserve to perform the same kind of operation—cutting branches to lessen the weight on an overhanging branch. In the case of the branch on Montini, we saw an immediate result of the branch lifting 4-6 inches right away, and likely more to come as the branch continues to adjust. This is enough to allow those who are 6 feet or under to pass without trouble, and likely some even taller folk. It made a clear difference, without removing the rather large branch entirely (it is easily 14-15 inches in diameter).
These are just some of the jobs volunteer trail stewards do, almost every day.
Today Jessica M. and I (both volunteer stewards) tackled a Montini trail project that I had long planned. There was a place on the Rattlesnake Cutoff Trail where water, during heavy storms, would flow across the trail. Since the initial construction of the trail didn’t take this into account, the water would pool on the trail, leading to a long trail segment that would essentially turn into a tiny lake (see photo).
The Montini Preserve was heavily mined in the early 1900s (this property and adjoining Schocken Hill, now the Sonoma Overlook Trail, essentially paved the streets of San Francisco at the time), and there is a quarry “divot” in the hill above that collects rainwater and funnels it out to the trail. Being essentially bedrock, the water has nowhere to go but out and down.
What the trail needed is what’s called an “armored swale,” which is essentially a channel cut into the trail that is protected by a floor of rocks to prevent erosion. I had been waiting for rain to soften the soil, as we would first need to excavate the existing rocks and in summer the ground is like concrete. It rained yesterday, so the soil was going to be about as soft as it was going to get. Also, since I knew that an “atmospheric river” was set to dump several inches of rain in a matter of a few days, now was the time to act.
So Jessica and I went out today and built it. We first needed to excavate a channel across the trail, then place stones to protect from erosion, and fill in gravel and soil around the stones. Do your worst, atmospheric river, we’re ready for you!
Since rain was predicted for today (and it came!) I headed out earlier in the week with a mattock to clear trail drainage channels, which had become clogged with rocks, leaves and miscellaneous debris since spring. Water must be guided off our trails immediately or else it will erode the trail and harm it, especially over time. Plus we don’t want the soil that gets eroded to end up in our waterways.
I also cut new ones where I thought they may be needed. Some of this work is obvious, but I know that additional work will be needed once we actually have flowing water on the trails and can see the trouble spots, where water is pooling or running down the trail.
This is just one task that the volunteer stewards group does throughout the year to keep our trails safe and well-maintained.
Yesterday I welcomed a new steward to the group: Jessica M. She can frequently be seen out on the trail, and she has for years picked up trash on the trail and performed similar tasks to help maintain our trails, so this is kind of like making official what has been reality for quite some time. When I met her at the trail this morning, she had already carried out a rusty bedspring that had somehow been deposited near the trail between the trailhead and the Rattlesnake Cutoff junction.
She had also just this week reported a big rock in the middle of the SOT just before the junction with Rattlesnake Cutoff (see picture). She reported it as being very heavy, and said that she couldn’t budge it. I said that I had a plan, and she asked to accompany me to deal with it. I’m glad she did, as I needed all the help I could get on this one.
I knew we needed to have some serious mechanical advantage, and I knew just how to get it from my commercial whitewater rafting days. When you have to pull a rubber raft off a rock that it’s wrapped around, you also need some serious mechanical advantage and I had the necessary gear to do it.
Using a long static (non-stretching) line, three pulleys, two prusiks, various lengths of one-inch webbing tied permanently into circles (these we wrapped around the rock), and plenty of locking carabiners, we set up a 5:1 z-rig system. That allowed us to first tip the rock over to the edge of the trail. We then changed anchor points (trees) to pull the rock in a different direction off the trail, as we had to avoid a tree.
It was a close thing. I was just about ready to call it when the rock started to tip the second time. Encouraged, we buckled down and finally it fell over off the trail (see picture of Jessica with her foot on our vanquished opponent).
Even if Jessica doesn’t pick up another tissue from the trail, she has earned her steward name tag. She definitely has the right stuff.
Dan Noreen, Beverage Supervisor, David Pye, Director of Engineering, Jay Garrett General Manager, Nathan Wakeen, Senior Rooms Operations Manager, Kaitlyn Tinder Director of Human Resources, Fred Allebach, Trail Steward (not pictured: Bill Wilson and Joanna Kemper, Trail Stewards).
The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa has long led hiking trips on the Sonoma Overlook Trail. Under the able leadership of Dan Noreen, Beverage Director and Sommelier, who is also an accomplished naturalist (seriously, where does it stop?), the Lodge offers daily hikes on the trail that are frequently populated by any number of Sonoma visitors, from one to 30 or more. Dan leads a special nature hike on Friday mornings, while on other mornings one of the coterie of the Lodge’s yoga teachers, who hold a class just before, lead a hike. As a daily hiker myself, I know all of them, and welcome them and their groups on a daily basis.
Since the trail is a free and open resource to all, that could be the end of this story. But Dan and his staff want to give back to the trail so they do and have for years. For the last three years the Lodge has coordinated with the Trail Stewards to send a large team on Coastal Cleanup Day. This time the group did a general cleanup and weeding at the trail kiosk and entry steps, and fortified a nearby wood staircase with cement blocks. Trail Stewards Fred Allebach, Joanna Kemper, and Bill Wilson provided materials, tools, and direction.
As always, we greatly appreciate their volunteer efforts to help maintain the trail and the property as the wonderful resource that it is — not just for our local community but also for our valued visitors from around the world. It takes a village, and we’re delighted to have their participation in that community of support.