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Project: San Mateo Memorial Park - Mt. Ellen Trails

Photo Albums: 1705-13 Memorial Park and 1703-29 Memorial Park Scouting

Our efforts to improve the Mt. Ellen trail network in San Mateo County’s Memorial Park continued on our Saturday, May 13, 2017 work day, which was focused on the Mt. Ellen Summit Trail. Bill Farrell identified this area as needing attention in the summer of 2016, and after our wet winter, the trail in some places was at risk of going back to nature with overgrowth.

As we had when we worked on the Mt. Ellen Nature Trail last September, we staged the trailer and volunteer parking at the lot immediately outside the main entrance of the park. Thanks to Ranger Dave Vasquez for taping off the area (and for coordinating with us on the work along with Ranger Matt Auda-Capel).

Our 15 experienced volunteers were greeted with clear skies and cool temperatures. The trail is mostly covered by a fir, oak, bay, and redwood canopy, and the soil has an organic texture that holds moisture without being mucky. We accessed the Summit Trail by hiking up the eastern end of the Nature Trail and started at the junction of the two trails near the “N” post.

We were excited to have Dave Taylor back on the job as a crew leader, and his crew began at the junction and covered the entire leg to first switchback, cleaning the inside edge, brushing, removing roots, and cleaning out a stretch bounded by a railing. Later they leap-frogged to two other sections. Crew-leader-in-training Karl Mosgofian’s team took the next leg, working to restore good drainage at the first switchback, scraping off much low vegetation from the tread and removing lots of soil from the inside edge to bring back the tread width. They moved on to several more sections before the day was out. Hank Magnuski’s crew was at the front initially and helped restore more bench at the next switchback where the outside edge had been lost in the turn. They also moved a lot of soil in the turn on their leg and took the opportunity to heavily cut back shrubs on the uphill side of the trail to ensure a clear corridor for years to come.

In several cases, as crews leap-frogged, volunteers were able to do a second pass on the trail to further improve the tread. After lunch, this all-pro team seemed to get a second wind and covered much more footage than you’d expect from this few people. We reached a more open section where lots of grass was growing and cleared that, concluding near the hairpin turn where the trail begins its westward run on the ridge. In total, nearly every foot of about 1/4 mile of trail was touched in some way to bring it back to standards.

We have enough work left that it will probably make sense to use our planned August 2017 return to Memorial to complete maintenance of the Summit trail. And there are a couple spots from the work day where we might want to follow up: possibly adding a retaining structure around the roots of a large Douglas fir where there’s not much bench left, and replacing a cracked railing on the first leg..

Thanks to Kathy Diamond, our volunteer coordinator, who ensures volunteers get good communication about the work day and manages sign-in, and to Larry Stites who provided the always welcome post-work snacks and beverages. Finally, we wouldn’t have had tools without the continued willingness of Dave Taylor to drive the trailer, which always seems to provide an extra challenge (in this case, it required hard-wiring the lights harness).

Judd Volino

Project: Alum Rock Park - City of San Jose

Photo Albums: 1704 Alum Rock Park and 1703-26 Alum Rock Scouting

On Saturday, April 22, we returned to Alum Rock Regional Park to work on the South Rim Trail switchbacks above the confluence of North Penitencia and Arroyo Aguague Creeks. The trail has been closed due to slide damage and a large downed tree and root ball across the trail. (Original plans were to return to Sycamore Switchbacks Trail to complete the work begun on December 6, 2016, but two severe slides during the winter storms now require major engineering and reroute of the trail, and Sycamore will remain closed for the foreseeable future.)

The weather was mostly clear, with temperatures in the 50’s at the outset and in the high 60’s when the workday ended. Following winter rains, the soil was quite workable. The work area was almost entirely under tree cover.

Volunteers parked in the Youth Science Institute lot, and Ranger Huy opened the gate to allow Dave C with the tool trailer access to the staging area at Sycamore Picnic Grove, immediately adjacent to the Sycamore Switchbacks trailhead.

Approximately 30 volunteers helped make the day a success. Dave Kison and Ranger Valerie greeted the arrivals in the parking lot, distributing parking passes and collecting sign-in sheets before directing them down the ½ mile Penitencia Creek Trail to the base of the switchbacks. After another ¾ mile hike to the top of the South Rim Trail switchbacks, the work began. Aaron’s crew had the upper portion of the trail, brushing and widening the overgrown tread, removing outside berms, defining the inside bench, brushing overhead, and adding a couple drain drips. What a difference! Dave C’s crew (the Earthmovers) cut the trail into the hillside to divert around a slide (undercut by a fallen tree), improved the ramp onto SJ Park’s engineered solution through a tree root ball (where same tree had come to rest), and opened a scenic vista at a switchback where fallen trees had blocked the view and posed head hazards. The scope for Larry’s crew included brushing, definition of inside bench, inside drains at switchbacks, new drain dips, and one awesomely beautiful new viewpoint. The top of the trail served up a spectacular panorama for lunch, complete with a view of MC Hammer’s house (maybe).

The Trail Center believes that the trail can now be opened to hikers. Ranger Mike is considering what work the City may want to complete prior to opening (road grader removal of rock slide on Penitencia Creek Trail and possible improvements to a large retaining wall at the lowest end of the switchbacks). The Trail Center is also considering a return to Alum Rock later this year to complete the lighter work on the lower half of the switchbacks and to add a retaining wall to the aforementioned trail diversion.

Bill Farrell

Project: Sugarloaf Mountain Open Space - City of San Mateo

Photo Album: 1703 Sugarloaf Mountain - Amphitheater Trail

After four consecutive cancellations due to regional rainouts, washouts, mud slides and road disasters, the Trail Center finally launched its 2017 season at Sugarloaf Mountain in Laurelwood Park of San Mateo City. We had a day of perfect weather and 37 (!) volunteers eager to start helping to repair the damage from this winter's wonderful storms.

Thanks to the suggestion of Kathy Diamond, we were able to find a workable venue that had easy access and repairable problems, a not insignificant task considering that many trails and access roads on our list are still closed. There were three main problems on the Amphitheater Trail (which the Trail Center constructed a few years ago) that needed our attention: mucky steps at the beginning of the trail, a mucky causeway further up and a super-mucky switchback that caused serious problems in proceeding up the trail.

We were fortunate to have three experienced crew leaders to direct our volunteers. Bill Farrell was assigned step repair, Dave Croker took on the switchback challenge and Luke Lempart handled everything else in the middle. We also wish to thank Larry Stites for again dealing with our after-work refreshments, Kathy Diamond for rounding up the volunteers, Justin Knowles for helping with the survey and Dave Croker for trailer hauling.

There are very steep steps at the beginning of this trail, and continuous water seepage was making the step surfaces slippery, muddy and unsafe. Drains would be difficult to do given the terrain, so a plan was made to top off each step with two or three inches of base rock that would provide for some drainage and at least improve the traction on each step. The rock would also provide a hardening for this very heavily used staircase. Kathy arranged for a ton of base rock to be delivered, and the City came through on the request. Midway, however, we thought we would be significantly short of material required, so Bill creatively mined nearby gravel and rock to supplement the fill used. These larger rocks greatly improved the potential drainage and strength of the stairs and by the end of the day the really hard working volunteers had filled and topped each step. The resulting improvement was dramatic.

Luke's crew handled a lot of drain cleanout and refurbishing. After a winter season such as we had it becomes very obvious why good drainage is needed. Our consensus, after looking at long stretches of this trail that were in perfect condition, is that we did a pretty decent job of planning and building at the front.

The mucky causeway was fixed with some inside retaining walls to divert the seepage and all the base rock we could haul to the site to fill in the top surface. (Note: Dave C. and Kathy returned later in the week to this section to create more of a drain behind the retaining walls.)

Dave's switchback project required digging into the hill to remove a slide, repairing a lot of the tread and creating an inside ditch to divert the water.

There were some other bonus repairs we were able to complete at the end of the day, and the net result was a tremendously improved and hike-able trail for the community.

Thanks to all the volunteers that helped make this happen. It is an excellent beginning for our 2017 year.

Hank Magnuski
Trail Boss

Project: Alum Rock Park - City of San Jose

Photo Album: 1612 Alum Rock San Jose City Park

On Saturday, December 3, we had a huge turnout of volunteers and staff to work on the Sycamore Switchbacks Trail.

The weather was clear, with temperatures in the high 40’s at the outset and in the mid 60’s when the workday ended. Following November rains, the soil was quite workable. The work area was almost entirely under tree cover.

Volunteers parked in the Youth Science Institute lot, and Ranger Mike Peasland opened the gate at 8:00 am to allow Dave with the tool trailer and Lianna with the snacks to access the staging area at Sycamore Picnic Grove, immediately adjacent to the Sycamore Switchbacks trailhead.

Approximately 70 volunteers helped make the day a success. Matt and Bart from San Jose Parks and Recreation supervised 20 middle school students and their 4 accompanying adults, removing slough on South Woodland Trail during the morning. Three Trail Center crew leaders supervised the remaining volunteers (including 26 students from Santa Clara University) beginning at the lower trailhead of Sycamore Switchbacks Trail. Crew leader Dave C. was assisted by Kathy in the lower portion, Judd was assisted by Julio in the middle leg, and Woody was assisted by Larry at the upper end. Each crew had a similar scope: brushing, slough removal, definition of inside bench, repair of drain trenches and insloping at switchbacks, and fixing or adding drain dips as required. The work progressed up to Switchback 7 (the location of the seating benches and interpretive sign), approximately 0.4 miles from the lower trailhead.

The steep canyon wall, with the trail doubling back almost on top of itself, presented the potential hazard for dislodging rocks onto lower work areas. The crew leaders did an exceptional job of managing this risk by coordinating relative positions of the crews and staggering them when necessary.

We look forward to returning to Alum Rock to complete similar scope on the upper 0.3 mile portion of Sycamore Switchbacks Trail and possibly to brush South Rim Trail immediately east and west of its junction with Sycamore Switchbacks.
Thanks to Ranger Huy Mac for coordinating with us on this project, walking the whole route during scouting, promoting the event via the park kiosks, ensuring availability of the Sycamore Picnic Grove, and closing the trail during the work. Thanks also to Matt, Bart, and Ranger Mike for their help throughout the day.

Bill Farrell

Project: Bay Area Ridge Trail - Saratoga Gap Open Space Preserve

Photo Album: 1611 Saratoga Gap OSP BART Service Day

On Saturday, November 5th, we had an absolutely great turnout of volunteers and staff to work on the Saratoga Gap Trail project. The weather was perfect, the logistics and planning paid off, and volunteers were busy all day moving rock, fixing tread and cleaning up this trail segment. At the end of the day everyone was tired but really satisfied with the new look of the trail.

Six crews were formed to address the work that was identified. Two headed south from our staging point, two headed north from this point, and two started at the Charcoal Road trailhead and worked south.

The staff of MROSD supplied us with lots of base rock to lay down and also with a couple of logs which were used as retaining walls.

The burritos arrived on schedule and everyone enjoyed one for lunch.

All critical areas on our list got attention and repair, and at the end of the day we celebrated with refreshments and a raffle.

I received many compliments about the project, and considering the size of the operation it went very smoothly.

Some details:
We had about 43 volunteers plus six crew leaders, a supervisor, three rangers, a burrito runner and representatives from MROSD, REI and BARTC. It was a full house. I wish to sincerely thank our crew leaders for a great job - Lisa Jewett, Dave Croker, Aaron Heiber, William Farrell, Judd Volino and Woody Collins. We couldn't have done this without their help. Thanks, too, to Kathy Diamond for organizing the volunteers. The staff from MROSD was extremely helpful, supplying planning, advice, logistics and equipment. We also wish to thank reps from REI, MROSD and BARTC for joining us at this event. And, of course, our burrito runner Susan.

Hank Magnuski

Project: Portola Redwoods State Park (Upper Coyote Ridge Trail)

Photo Album: 1610 Portola Redwoods SP/Pescadero Creek CP

On Saturday, Oct. 8 the Trail Center returned to complete work on the Upper Coyote Ridge Trail that spans Portola Redwoods State Park and Pescadero Creek County Park. We were blessed with four crew leaders, Hank, Bill, Dave C., and Aaron and a great mix of 24 experienced and new volunteers. It was a little warmer than ideal, but most of the work had the benefit of the cover of redwoods, Douglas firs, and oaks. We staged from the Tarwater Trailhead in Pescadero Creek County Park, at the north end of the trail.

We focused on removing low vegetation, especially berry vines, at the south and north ends of the trail and a few sections in between we weren't able to get in August. We also improved the tread on some switchbacks to reduce the chance of shortcutting. We covered approximately 0.6 miles of trail.

A bit of trivia: Long-time volunteer Ken pointed out that the Trail Center originally built the Upper Coyote Ridge Trail over a few work days in 1992-93. Check the photo album link for some clippings from the old newsletters.

Particularly in the portion of the trail in Pescadero Creek park, once vines were cut back Hank's crew had to do a significant amount of duff and soil removal to restore the inside edge of the trail and gain full bench width. Bill's crew did similar work just inside the north border in the Portola Redwoods section and worked a particularly overgrown switchback and stretch just before the westward vista.

Aaron's crew worked the mid-section of the trail to open up tread that ran primarily on the ridgeline. As the canopy is less dense there, poison oak was more prevalent. His crew ended by helping Bill's wrap up.

Finally, Dave C's crew started at the south junction with Coyote Ridge Trail and removed a lot of tough vines that had narrowed the first 0.1 mile of trail. They continued north addressing other overgrowth, several areas of tread that needed leveling, and a snag. They ended up in the north area under the redwoods removing duff from the inside edge and sending a few people to help Hank's crew complete their stretch.

As there still hadn't been any measurable rain on the trail, it was not feasible to even out the tread much where the soil was clay-like. We will pass on to state parks staff that this might be good to do if they had time in early spring.

Special thanks to Kathy for helping to determine the work and flag in advance of this work day.

- Judd Volino

Eighteen Trail Center volunteers spruced up the Mount Ellen Nature Trail in San Mateo County’s Memorial Park.  For a nature trail, it was quite challenging with steep parts and large roots obstructing the trail.  Dave Taylor was the day’s Trail Boss and he was assisted by Hank Magnuski, Judd Volino, and Larry Stites/Kathy Diamond as Crew Leaders.  The effort focused on general trail maintenance.  Plenty of duff and leaves had accumulated which needed to be removed.  Roots had been exposed in considerable numbers and needed to be removed or “topped off.”  Volunteers constructed a few drain diversions and a temporary trail diversion around a location which had, until recently, had a large Douglas Fir blocking the trail.  The Ranger, Dave Vasquez and a Ranger Aide, Mike, helped by constructing a step down from a particularly large root after this unsafe situation was pointed out.  Finishing off the day, all three teams joined up to create some new drainage diversions and fill in some gullies near the entrance to the trail.  Crushed rock from the temporary trail around the Doug Fir was repurposed to help fill in the troughs we decommissioned the temporary trail.

The day was beautiful and everyone got a good workout, even without extensive digging required.  All agreed that the trail network was confusing, but everyone found his or her way back down. Several locations were identified where retaining walls would be beneficial to get around large roots half blocking the trail.  This is a project for another day.  A special thanks to Bill Farrell who scouted and wrote up this and some pending Memorial projects and Judd who walked the trail help scout it out for the work day along with Dave.

Dave Taylor

Project: Portola Redwoods State Park (Upper Coyote Ridge Trail)

Photo Album: 1608 Portola Redwoods

We revisited our destination of a year ago by working in Portola Redwoods State park on August 20, 2016. Two crew leaders, Hank and Bill supervised 21 volunteers, including six young men from Camp Glenwood.

The team covered about 0.7 of a mile of the 1.3 mile long Upper Coyote Ridge trail in order to address low and high vegetation, poison oak, and slough and bring back a more comfortable tread width throughout. We staged from the Tarwater Trailhead in Pescadero Creek County Park, at the north end of the trail. We were fortunate to work mostly under tree cover.

The work day leaders prioritized working on areas of the trail where the tread narrowing was forcing hikers to the outside edge of the trail and where the highest concentrations of poison oak were encroaching. Bill's crew began by completing much brushing, grass and berry vine removal from the westward facing vista area about 0.6 mile down the trail. Later they continued south at the next most needy areas, again primarily removing vegetation that had overgrown into the trail corridor and attacking patches poison oak.

Hank's crew started about 0.9 mile down, where the trail is situated right on the ridge and there are a number of switchbacks. This part of the trail needed mostly slough removal and tread restoration along with brushing. All of the critical tread was completed save for a small section where a retaining wall may be needed due to tree roots and a steep hill slope. A pair of volunteers did all the brushing to the junction with the two branches of the "lower" Coyote Ridge Trail.

We look forward to returning to Portola Redwoods sometime after the turn of the year to complete some outstanding retaining wall projects on the Slate Creek Trail. Perhaps we can also revisit the Upper Coyote Ridge trail to fine tune the tread when the soils have more pliability and perform additional low vegetation removal, particularly in the northern 0.6 mile that includes part of Pescadero Creek County Park.

Thanks to Ranger Tyler Knapp for coordinating with us on this project, walking the whole route during scouting, ensuring availability of the trailhead parking lot and for visiting to thank volunteers at the end of the work day. We also appreciate the continued support from Santa Cruz District Trail Supervisor Chris Pereira.

Judd Volino

Project: Portola Redwoods State Park (main park areas)

Photo Album: 1508 Portola State Park

August 22 had the Trail Center back out at Portola Redwoods State Park for the 2nd of 4 scheduled trips to this beautiful park. Twenty eager volunteers spent a lovely day in the redwoods doing a multitude of tasks including minor brushing and dead tree and stump removal, but tread improvement was the primary focus. The day was a big success as we were able to repair all of the rest of the flagged projects along the Slate Creek Trail up to the saddle before the backpacker's camp. Of course that didn't include work in the several spots that require serious retaining wall structures, but that's what's on tap for the final 2 work days. I was very pleased with the quality of work we accomplished as were the several groups of hikers and backpackers that passed by us during the day. Of particular note were two projects. One was the massive hole that Lewis and others created by removing a large dead log in the trail (think iceberg), and then they had to repair the trail by backfilling. The other was a big snag and narrow spot that Tom worked on by himself for the better part of the afternoon. Both spots are much better and safer thanks to their efforts.

Today was also a special day because we handed out 4 swag items. We celebrated Kent, Alison, and Alex for attaining their "Green Hats" and Theresa for earning her "Green Shirt". Congratulations all! If you want to earn your very own Green Hat, all you have to do is attend 4 trail build events in at least 2 different parks. For a Green Shirt, double your participation to 8 events. It's easy, it's fun, and it's rewarding. And as Hank likes to say, these are items that money can't buy.

A special note of thanks goes out to our wonderful crew leaders Lisa, Judd (still nursing a broken finger), Hank, and Dave T. Also need to thank Lianna for handling a wonderful refreshment hour and Kathy for organizing the volunteers.

Photo Album: 1507 Sierra Buttes

On the weekend of July 23-25th, 2015, twelve experienced Trail Center volunteers joined six ACE (American Conservation Experience) crew members and two PCTA volunteers to engage in work on the Sierra Buttes Trail Realignment Project. This is a six-mile, multi-year project designed to move the Pacific Crest Trail from its current location on forest roads and private property where hikers have to dodge vehicular traffic, ATV's, OHV's and mountain bikes to a new, scenic path east of the existing alignment. The opening of this segment is expected for the 2017 season. Funding is provided by the Pacific Crest Trail Association, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation.

Trail Center volunteers arrived at the campsite on Thursday evening July 22nd and stayed at the (now abandoned) Forest Service Wild Plum Guard Station or the nearby Wild Plum Campground. These sites are located on the eastern edge of Sierra City and accessible via Highway 49.

Our workday started with a shuttle ride to the Packsaddle Campground near Packer Lake and a short hike to the active project site. Elevation was around 6400 ft., a little easier to deal with than some of our previous High Sierra work. Our volunteers could select from a buffet of work activities which included brushing and first cut of newly flagged trail, finishing of existing tread, completion of some switchback work, and digging in borrow pits and filling in a rock causeway (known there as the Yana Mines Detail). On Sunday morning one of our volunteers, Judd, was asked to help flag the final stretch to a service road crossing. By the end of the weekend the Trail Center finished about 300 feet of completely new trail, fixed several switchbacks, finalized some previously done treadwork and put in the last rocks on the causeway.

At the end of the day our volunteers could cool down and rinse off in any number of nearby lakes and streams where cool mountain water felt extremely refreshing.

The response to this project from our volunteers has been excellent and many suggested that we plan to come back next year.

The Trail Center would like to thank volunteers Kathy, George, Judd, Marilyn, Tom, Woody, Bill, Luke, Hank, Larry, Aaron and Eva for their participation and hard work. A special thanks go to supervisors Shaughn Dugan, Allie and Yana of ACE for their excellent leadership and welcoming and appreciative attitude, to Ellen Coyle, Jennifer Tripp and Justin Kooyman of the PCTA for assistance in planning and logistics, and to Joe Chavez of the USFS for project oversight and design.

Hank Magnuski