The Overlook Trail Stewards are a group of about a dozen people who meet four times a year but who also keep in fairly constant email communication about the needs of the trails and the properties they traverse. Our work is funded through citizen donations, we receive no tax money to support the trail. The only City of Sonoma staff support that we receive is when, on occasion, we request for safety reasons that City staff cut a fallen tree away from the Trail or when a large tree is endangering hikers, and we only ask staff for assistance when the tree is too large for us to handle ourselves. The City does, however, also provide financial support by paying the Sonoma Ecology Center to be our fiscal agent.
There is also a group of volunteers (some who are also Overlook Trail stewards), who help out on the contiguous Montini Open Space Preserve.
Here are just some of the jobs we do for the Overlook:
- 2018 Rehabilitation Project. A major project was undertaken to enhance the trail entrance, reroute a portion of the lower trail to avoid badly degraded and dangerous segments, and rehabilitate the rest of the trail to improve tread, encourage natural water sheet flow in rain, and transition grade changes in a more sustainable and safer way.
- Install and maintain signs. Proper signage is important for hikers to know their options as they reach junctions. Signs are also used to prevent hikers from using cutoffs that can be unsightly and create erosion problems. On the Overlook Trail, we also have signs that identify significant trees and plants of the area.
Maintain the integrity of the trail and the property. We put a lot of effort into preventing hikers from taking shortcuts which can lead to erosion and unsightly degradation of the property. We may also at times need to fix portions of the trail that are washing away or otherwise deteriorating.
- Assure appropriate water drainage. As the trail is used over time, it tends to create a creek-like impression that rain happily uses to run downhill. To prevent serious erosion, it’s necessary to cut drainage paths on the downhill side of the trail to drain the water from the trail. These cuts need to be cleared out each Fall as rocks and debris tend to collect in them.
Reduce and eradicate non-native plants. Invasive species such as Scotch Broom, Yellow Star Thistle, and Italian Thistle, and others are found on the Overlook and Montini properties, and must be pulled from the ground by hand. In the Spring and Summer we often will have a work party that goes out with large sacks and gloves and pulls these invasive plants to provide a better habitat for our native flora. Individual stewards also go out independently to work to eradicate these plants from the properties. Eradication is only possible over a span of years of such focused activity. Through concerted, years-long efforts, we have been able to essentially eradicate Yellow Star Thistle from both properties, but Italian Thistle and other species are an ongoing challenge.
- Coordinate with local agencies. The City of Sonoma owns these properties, and has contracted with the Sonoma Ecology Center to maintain the Montini Open Space property as well as to serve as the fiscal agent for the Sonoma Overlook Trail. The Chair of the Stewards as well as others communicate with these agencies on a regular basis — for example, if a tree falls across the trail, the City Public Works department needs to be informed so they can come out and cut it. We also communicate with the Chief of Police about violations of the law on the trail (for example, dogs and bikes).
- Raise money. Maintaining the properties and trails requires money. We solicit donations from hikers for general maintenance needs and larger donors for bigger projects.
- Advocate for appropriate management rules and laws. The trails are governed by City ordinances that are, at least in part, grounded in official agreements with agencies such as the Sonoma County Open Space District. At times these ordinances are challenged by those who wish to change the rules (for example, the prohibition against dogs on the trails is now being called into question). It is our role as stewards to protect the values for which the land was originally set aside and the trails created.
Although that sounds like a lot, and some days it sure feels like it is, many of these activities get us out on the trails and working, which keeps us healthy and happy. Meanwhile, we get to know each other and form lasting friendships with others who are committed to improving this valley and the lives of the people who live here. And what’s not to like about that? As a volunteer organization, there are no job requirements, no test to take, no application process. If you like what we’re about and want to help, join us! You can contact April Starke for more information.
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