Sonoma Raceway Hike!

You’re invited to join us for our ever popular and very unique opportunity to tour remote stretches of the hills and valleys surrounding Sonoma Raceway‘s 1,600-acre property and help support a good cause to boot!

Participants can choose either a three or five mile guided hike through the splendid hills and grasslands of the raceway’s extensive open space to the west of the main facility. These somewhat hilly hikes will be guided by Overlook Trail docents and Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway’s President and General Manager. This property, offering 360-degree views and bayland vistas, is not usually accessible to the public.

The route meanders through native grasslands and with our exceptionally wet winter promises to produce a spectacular wildflower season! You may even encounter some “Wooly Weeders” and their Spring lambs in action! Afterwards, we’ll enjoy a catered lunch including wine or soft drinks.

Proceeds support the Sonoma Overlook Trail maintenance, restoration, recreation and education programs run by the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, an all-volunteer group that maintains the Overlook Trail.

Date/Time: Saturday, May 11, 2019 – 10 a.m.-1 p.m
Cost: $50 Non-refundable, Tax Deductible Donation 
Includes:  
  • Docent led hike
  • Lovely picnic lunch catered by Levy Restaurants
  • Wines and non alcoholic drinks
  • Jaw Dropping Views!
Early registration is advised as our similar event sold out last year.

Register Here

The Sonoma Overlook Trail is fiscally sponsored by the Sonoma Ecology Center, a California non-profit 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation qualified to receive tax-deductible donations. Its tax ID number is #94-3136500

The Fungus Among Us

The rainy season is of course also the season of fungus, which thrives on damp conditions. The rains we have experienced the last few months has only spurred these interesting organisms to new bursts of growth. Just the other day, I was delighted to come upon a large patch of bright orange and yellow fungi (see picture of only two of dozens in one area) that had recently pushed up past the detritus of dead leaves and decomposed vegetation that comprise the forest duff.

The two kinds pictured above are of course just a couple of many, many different kinds of fungi found in Northern California. And since positive identification can be difficult if you aren’t an expert, you won’t find me climbing out on that particular limb. But that doesn’t meant that I can’t appreciate their diversity, color, and sheer exuberance in pushing up through a sometime thick layer of compost toward sunlight.

All of the pictures included in this post were taken on either the Overlook Trail or the Montini Preserve, so be on the lookout to see these and others now and in the coming days.

‘Don’t Look Up’ and Other Lessons From Invasive Species Removal

Pulling an Italian Thistle in its early stage.

At the risk of completely turning off our loyal readers (Hi Mom!), I once again sally forth into the area of invasive species removal, but this time it’s to describe some “lessons learned,” after years of doing this work. But if you read beyond this point you may want to see your psychiatrist. Just a friendly warning. Jump to the end of this post if you don’t believe me.

They’re called “invasive species” for good reason. Native plant species have existed in a particular ecosystem for many years, decades, even millennia. So when a new plant species is introduced into an area, the local ecosystem often has no defenses against it. This can (and often does) allow the invasive species the opportunity to completely take over the local ecosystem, thereby crowding out native species until there is essentially a monoculture. I’ve seen this happen. One of the first things to understand, then, is that this is a very real threat, and one that we have not always been good at fighting.

It’s not a battle, it’s a war of attrition. Don’t think that this is a battle that can be fully won. All we can hope to accomplish is to reduce the level of invasion to a manageable level and keep it there, or reduce it over time. We may be successful in keeping a particular species off the properties completely, with due diligence over years and constant vigilance, but we will likely never completely rid these properties of invasive species altogether. It’s just what it is. Know this going in.

Don’t look up. Invasive species removal is what’s called a long game — something that takes concerted effort over many years to reach your goals. Think of marriage, or saving for retirement — things that take work over long periods of time to achieve lasting goals. I’ve also called this being gently powerful, as a river is when it erodes very hard rock. The point about not looking up is that if you see the entire job before you, you may despair. But if you keep your head down, and only look at what is in front of you, then you have a chance at going on, and really making a difference in the long term. This is a real issue when it comes to achieving a difficult task like fighting back invasive species.

Look up. No, this is not a negation of the previous point, but merely the fact that sometimes it can really help to break out of the focus of the work you are doing and simply enjoy where you are. Look around, see the wildlife, fell the breeze, look off into the far distance, and just drink it all in. You are here for a reason, but you can also enjoy yourself at the same time. And if you are enjoying yourself, then you are more likely to keep doing the work.

Set achievable goals. When I first started pulling invasive weeds, I had no goals. I just went out and did it. But when I really took it on as a project, I discovered the need to set goals. Initially, in my ignorance, I set the goal of complete eradication. On the Overlook property, that ended up being achievable for the Yellow Star Thistle, since after 5-6 years of concerted effort, we seem to be getting there. But I’m not so sanguine about the Italian Thistle, so I’ve set the much more modest goal of eradicating it from the trail edge for now. Once that is achieved, another goal can be set. But don’t rush it, or you may fall into the trap of frustration.

Manage your discouragement. I don’t know of anyone who does this work who hasn’t had moments of feeling discouraged. Anything that is this daunting is likely to make anyone have feelings of discouragement now and then. How I handle it myself is I ask myself the question that is the verbal equivalent of “don’t look up” — “Are you making a difference?” Invariably, the answer is “Yes, I am.” And that’s how I turn discouragement into determination — by focusing on the small goal of simply making a difference. Just make next year better than this year or the year before. 

Don’t start at zero tolerance. Part of managing your discouragement is to know that in serious infestations there is no way you can get it all at one time. Don’t even think you can. Understand that you may need to hit the same general area one, two, even half-a-dozen times before you can feel good about it, and don’t sweat it. Only set an area to “zero tolerance” — where you pull everything you see — when the area warrants that designation. It may take you years to get to that point for some areas. It isn’t a failing. 

Know that there’s never just one. This is a rookie mistake – thinking that when you spot one invasive weed that’s all there is. As I’ve blogged about before, that is never the case. Just stop thinking that. As soon as you zoom in on that one weed, you will see others — perhaps many others. But there’s never just one.

Understand that not only is it not sexy, it’s not even remotely attractive. Much of this work happens off the trail, where no one sees you doing it. And even when you’re doing it on the trail, you’re sweaty, smelly, and sticking your big butt toward the trail. Believe me on this. It’s not a pretty encounter. Some of you reading this may have even been there, and can back me up on this. I’m sorry.

If you think you’ve won, you haven’t been doing it long enough. When I first started doing this work, I naively thought we could knock it out in a year or two. That was almost a decade ago and there are invasive species we haven’t yet addressed. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had a serious impact — we totally have. For example, I am proud to report that we’ve essentially eradicated the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from both the Sonoma Overlook and Montini Preserve properties, after years of work. Also, we have made a serious impact on Italian Thistle on the Overlook Trail property. So there has been progress. But there is also much further to go. Just don’t think we’ve won, because we never really do. But we make a difference, and that is important.

Don’t let one patch get you down. This is a lesson it took me a while to learn. When I found a patch of invasive weeds I thought I needed to pull it all before moving away. But I quickly realized that for my own sanity I would need to take a break, if it only meant attacking a different edge of the patch. Sometimes you just need to walk a bit and restart anew, and that is totally OK. These days, I only work on a patch until I feel like moving on, as I know I will be back tomorrow or the next day to fight it back farther, and eventually, over time, eliminate it. And that’s perfectly OK. Bottom line: only do what you want to do.

Use the seasons to your advantage. Invasive species have their own timetable, and some, like Italian Thistle, come in early, while others, like Yellow Star Thistle, come in later in the season. Meanwhile, you can get Scotch Broom pretty much any time. I’ve been pulling Italian Thistle starting in January, as it becomes to come in, which is a great time to get it, as it can be easy to pull from the wet soil and you can simply toss it aside, rather than hauling it out in a sack as you need to do later in the season. Later in the year I add YST to my itinerary, although as I’ve mentioned it is thankfully becoming more rare.

Beware of obsession.  I don’t know what to tell you about this. I just know that it’s possible to descend into obsession. Here is even a blog post about it. Just don’t let it happen to you. If you do, I’ll see you out there, and you’ll be welcome.

Lord help you. If you’ve made it this far then I feel for you. You may be in danger of catching the bug, which I’m not sure I would wish on anyone. Pretty much every day during Spring and Summer I ask myself whether I will hike or pull invasive species, and most of the time I choose the latter, as it needs to be done and I’m not sure who else will do it. Perhaps talk to me before choosing to do this. At least I will be able to give you the straight dope, and you can decide for yourself whether you are up to it.

No, I’m serious. Perhaps you thought I was kidding. I’m not. I really wish that I had not caught this bug. I see the people every day doing their hike or run and there I am, pulling stupid invasive weeds. Don’t be me. Take your hike or run and throw me a thank you every now and then. But I know it is actually pity, and I get that. It’s what I would do if I could. But I can’t. It’s too late for me. Save yourself.

Happy Hikers

Now that it’s winter and we spend more time indoors, it is SO-o-o-o-o enjoyable to start the day with a hike on the Overlook Trail.  Maybe a tad of cabin fever is being experienced here in Sonoma, because we had a BIG group of Happy Hikers show up today for our Wednesday morning hike. . . .Come join us any Wednesday at 8:30 for a Cabin Fever Cure.

PS. . . A HUGE thank you to Stewards Roy, Lynn, and Bill for getting the fallen tree on the trail removed PRONTO so that our hike was safe and  unobstructed.

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It Takes a Team

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about becoming a Sonoma Overlook Trail Steward is being part of a motivated, energetic, and inspiring group of individuals who all love the land and hiking out in it. But now and then I’m reminded that the official stewards group is only the tip of the spear, as it were, in keeping the trail safe and well-maintained. This week was one of those times.

Usually I’m out on the trail every day when I’m not away, but this week found me in bed on Monday with a cold I caught in the wake of two weeks in Thailand. Literally on my sick bed I received a text message from Melissa Beasley, a friend who is a yoga teacher for The Lodge and also leads hikes on the Overlook Trail several days a week. She had in turn received a text message from her colleague Lisa Turchet, who also is a yoga teacher for The Lodge and also leads those hikes. Lisa was warning Melissa about a tree down on the trail (see photo), and suggesting she might want to consider alternate routes for the hikes she might lead later in the week. Before I had even gotten out of bed, I fired off an email to a couple colleagues who assist with trail maintenance, Lynn Clary and Bill Wilson, hoping that one or more of them could get by there and help mitigate the hazard. Bill also serves as our liaison with the City, so I knew he would report it to the City so they could come out with a chainsaw and do a full removal.

Sure enough, within hours Lynn, Bill, and Richard Gibson, another steward, were on it and had at least made it possible to more easily pass with care. Since Monday was a City holiday, it took another day or two to get it fully removed, but now it no longer presents a hazard. All told, at least six different individuals or groups were involved, working in concert, to get this resolved, and only half were actual trail stewards.

This experience is not rare, but it served to remind me how we stewards serve within a much larger community of those who care about the trails and the land that they pass through. It takes a team, and that team is much larger than I think any of us can fully grasp. Thank you all, for your love and support. It’s appreciated.

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!