Mindego Hill, volunteer day

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Saturday, 26 April 2014

Another volunteer day, this one at Mindego hill, an open area that became part of the open space system a few years ago, but has been closed to public use while they get things sorted out. I always walk out to the closed gate when I hike Russian Ridge. In the early days, a sign on the gate said, “Keep out, unless you can run faster than the brahma bull!”

It is still closed to public use. We are building trails. The trails will need to mellow for a year, but they hope to open them to general use in 2015. One of the nice things about volunteering is the opportunity to see places that are not generally accessible.

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Today’s volunteer crew. Ellen is the volunteer program coordinator, white jacket just right of center. Several of the others are frequent volunteers, and as always, there are a few newbies. Welcome, all.

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Looking up the hill, we can see the new trail switching back and forth. A shortcut for the motor cart goes up more directly, but it will not be part of the finished project. We need the motor cart to take supplies up the hill.

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We car-pooled in a couple of the open space vehicles, collected shovels and hammers and what-not, and started up the hill.

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I joined two others installing what are called wattles, these cylinders of straw wrapped in burlap. They are staked down on the broken earth across the steeper grades to retard the flow of runoff, thereby to prevent erosion. The other volunteers were deputized to strew straw beside the trail, also to reduce erosion.

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We used up all the stakes battening down wattles, about the time our compatriots used up the straw that had been delivered to a staging point halfway up the hill. We broke for lunch, hiked to the top of the hill.

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Terrific views in all directions. That blue stuff over there is the ocean.

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We stopped on the way back down to clear out some fennel (much like dill: smells wonderful!), which will take over an area if it gets the chance. Narrow-bladed shovels to try to get the roots out, but as one of the shovelers, I can attest that the roots go a long way down, and sometimes cutting or breaking the roots was the best we could do.

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One of the guys discovered a centipede (1 pair of legs per segment).

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As a special treat, we went down to Mindego pond, where a USGS master’s degree student told us about his research project on the San Francisco garter snake, found in comparative abundance here.

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Abundance means he has caught 17 of them so far. Actually, that’s pretty good.

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His snake trap; a long vertical wall uphill from the trap steers snakes and other creatures into the trap. The ball is used to plug up the entrance on days when he isn’t here to inspect and empty the trap, to avoid the possibility that something gets trapped and can’t survive a delay. Next to the ball, we see a soaked green sponge, which allows amphibians that may get caught to avoid dessication.

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There are said to be red-legged frogs here, and one of the research topics is whether the frogs eat the snakes or vice versa, or maybe neither or both. We didn’t see any of them, but there were a few California tree frogs around. My colleague’s boot gives an idea how small they are.

Another terrific day.

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