Walk About Martinez -- Trail Crew

A new vision for Mt. Diablo open space, PCT Trail Crew #1, the Student Conservation Association, Tomales Bay State Park and kayaks and oysters, this week in Walk About Martinez.

The local trail news for today is a wonderful article in Bay Nature Magazine  on a vision for Mt. Diablo and the open space connected to it that will give Contra Costa County a wilderness preserve to rival the Golden Gate National Seashore, and the great open spaces and parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  

“The news, hidden in plain sight, is the way preserves old and new are now linking up to form something much grander: a national park-size block of public lands, centered on Mount Diablo but extending north to Suisun Bay and south at least to the Altamont, and perhaps beyond.”

Wildlife managers have come to a new way of thinking regarding the preservation of wildlife habitat.  Large contiguous properties are more beneficial for wildlife than isolated preserves, as have often been created for development mitigation in the past.  There is currently the will, the agencies, and the resources to make this a reality.  For us living on the edge of the Diablo Range, it will be a hiking and camping dream come true.  It’s a great article and if you prize our hills, take a look at this link.  These are exciting developments in Central and South County.

“With the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservation Plan and the parallel efforts to the south, big dreams are coming into reach. "We're compressing the distance between vision and reality," says Bob Doyle. Seth Adams puts it in grander terms: "We are reassembling the Diablo wilderness."

Trail Stories  

Trail angels come in all shapes and sizes, and when you’re living on trail for a long trek, you’re grateful for their presence.  Some offer you a place to stay and clean up, dry out and get a rest.  Others may leave coolers of soda, fruit and candy near a trail head, stock water caches in the desert, or hand you a snack as they drive by on a dirt road.  One Buddhist Monastery in WA leaves a barrel of candy and a small Buddhist shrine attached to a tree.  But when you’ve got hundreds of miles of winter “blow down” blocking trails, bridges washed out, or chaparral growth clogging a path, your best friends, and favorite trail angels, are the trail crew men and women, usually volunteers, keeping that trail passable.

Before I left for my current hike across WA, I was privileged to do a little “angeling" myself, entertaining a trail crew whose leader was a hiker I had traveled with last year from Lake Tahoe to near Sisters Oregon, Max Chill, AKA Tim.  He got his trail name because he was the king of the “chill session.”  He hiked much faster than me -- most of those 20 somethings did -- but I’d catch up and find him quietly sitting at the most beautiful scenic spot of the morning, just looking out at the view.  That was a chill session.  I’d usually just blast on through a morning, not stopping until lunch, and sometimes not until dinner, but Max Chill got me to pull over and take in the beauty for a bit.  When he picked a lunch spot, or a place to camp, it had to be right, and that meant gorgeous, a place where you couldn’t take your eyes off the beauty through dinner, and where as the landscape dissolved into darkness, you were sad to see it go.

Tim is from Minnesota with a degree in geology and he’s found his love in the mountains of the West.  He’s been a guide on the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota, done some rangering, and run several long term trail crews, and last year he  thru hiked the PCT.  His favorite job is stone work in the wilderness, steps to last the centuries, or supporting trails cut into cliffs, jobs you can look back on with pride.  When he hiked the High Sierra last year, he was able to point out the work he’d done in years past.

In January he was hired on by the Student Conservation Association, to head the PCT 1 trail crew, a group of 6 young men and women, volunteers through Americorps, who have become a hard working family since they came together in March.  They’ll remain a crew until  December, clearing and repairing the PCT from the deserts in late winter to the High Sierra and Northern Sierra all summer.  They recently built a bridge on it.  They work ten days on and four days off, and when I got a call that they were coming to the Bay Area for the Outside Lands Music Festival and needed a place to crash, I was happy to oblige.  

The Student Conservation Association, or SCA, is an organization begun in 1955 by Vassar College student, Elizabeth Cushman as a senior thesis, in which she proposed a student conservation corps, based on the Depression era, Civilian Conservation Corps.  The primary goal was to engage young people as park volunteers.  The program has successfully fielded many thousands of volunteers since then in jobs ranging from Interpretive Rangers to research workers, trail crews and many other positions.  They are an invaluable aid to our National Parks and National Forests, State Parks and even small jurisdictions.  Elizabeth Cushman received the President’s Volunteer Action Award from President Ronald Reagan in 1982, and last year was given the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Barak Obama.  It’s a great organization to become involved with if you have the time and desire to give back to America, and I learned that you don’t even need to be a student anymore.  Tim said they had been working with lots of other volunteers along the PCT.  You can contact the Pacific Crest Trail Association, if you’re interested in volunteering.  

Two of the crew members had other places to go, but the four who came to Martinez included Tim, Matt, Tony and Carolyn.  Tim said he had a great crew, but by the end of the weekend, Katie and I both agreed.  They were all polite, helpful to a fault, educated, intelligent, and really fun to be around.  Where are these kids coming from!  They started out by asking to split my winter wood!  I had to tell them to just “chill” for a few days, and they were good at that too.  

Carolyn is from Nebraska and has a degree in history, but was crazy for our Western mountains and loves to backpack.  Tony, also from the Midwest, has been involved in the performing arts and had worked as an actor, but is now happy to spend most of a year giving his time to the trails.  In return he’s getting a respite from his student loans, an educational stipend when he completes the tour, and the summer of a lifetime. 

Matt is from Memphis Tennessee and loves the Smokeys, but after six years of college, has hit the trail, and has found a new home in the High Sierra.  He's a foody who knows great Southern and Gulf cooking and loved our Bay Area cuisine.

All of them were fascinating to talk to, and man could they eat.  I remember that off trail town hunger.  Last year our main job when reaching a town, was to eat as much real food as we could pack-in before getting back to a week of dried, packaged food, most of it really bad.  Cheese crackers and corn nuts for breakfast anyone?   So, we started our guests out on a mess of slow smoked ribs with enough left over to keep feeding them all weekend.  When a Tennessean tells you your ribs are great, that’s a real compliment.  Then again, it could be aimed at a beautiful woman nearby, or if you’re a hiker, it might mean you’ve lost too much weight.  But Matt meant the ribs he was eating, and eating, and eating.  He took this off trail job seriously.

They had a great time at the Outside Lands festival, and in Golden Gate Park, where they had gone primarily to see Phish.  If you check out their SCA blog site, you’ll notice a transposition of the letter F into Ph, in honor of the group.  Tim’s got some terrific You Tube videos on the web site, the forth one down this page, shows the clearing of a boulder which had partially blocked the trail, causing a horse to go over the edge the day before.  It’s exciting to see the work they do.    

The day after the music festival, we packed up some ribs, and kayaks and I got the trail crew out to Tomales Bay State Park for a day at Hearts Desire Beach.  Even our daughter Sarah and her boyfriend David showed up.  The paddling was great fun, but Matt and Tony had been told about the oysters farmed in Tomales Bay, and about 3pm took up a collection and headed off in my big double kayak to cross the bay and find the Hog Island Oyster Farm, and some of the finest oysters on the West Coast.  They were gone almost three hours and in my fatherly fashion, I got worried.  At their age they all feel invincible, but if anything had happened in the middle of the bay, hypothermia can set in quickly and is deadly.  But they made it back with 125 oysters and the resulting BBQ was beyond good.  We had the first straight up, raw on the half shell, but a bit of butter, lemon and garlic was all that was needed for those that went on the grill.  We were the last ones off the beach that evening. 

The next morning they packed up, headed out to resupply for the next “hitch” which will be along the PCT just outside of Mammoth.  They’ll be moving to the Northern Sierra for the fall, and early winter will find them back in the deserts. This weekend they'll be back in town with a bit more time and we'll give them a tour of the John Muir National Monument, and I'll take them up on their offer to split my winter wood. Of course there will be ribs!  

"Never while anything is left of me shall this... camp be forgotten. It has fairly grown into me, not merely as memory pictures, but as part and parcel of mind and body alike." — John Muir

Chris Kapsalis October 15, 2011 at 02:37 PM
What better place to preserve this wilderness than John Muir's own back yard. Great article Scott and this is very good news. Once you lose some lands, it is never the same, and it is priceless. I will have to stay tuned and if I can help them, by vote or other, achieve these goals. And finally, again, progressive thinking. We do need wild areas connected, for the many animals who travel far for food and to survive. And us to enjoy.
Scott Williams October 16, 2011 at 06:47 AM
Thanks Chris, It is exciting to watch Contra Costa stepping up and creating a world class open space preserve to rival Marin and the Peninsula. We've got Diablo as a central feature, the most prominent mountain in Central CA and gorgeous surrounding hills. But to link it all up, from the Concord Naval Weapons station lands, all the way to Livermore and beyond is a dream come true.


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