As CNPS enthusiasts, we often are out in the natural surroundings, enjoying the landscapes, breathing fresh air, and getting some exercise. Who hasn’t been out on a trail or a path lately to experience a native plant community or stroll through an oak woodland? For those of us with adventure in our blood, a trip down a trail is our passport to what we study and admire out in nature. The SLO chapter has monthly field trips to destinations around the Central Coast and beyond, where we regularly get out and observe the details of plant life. And, we find this sort of activity quite fulfilling!

Have you ever wondered how that trail you were using recently, came into existence and how it has been maintained over the years? Trails are built and maintained by people! In the past, most of this trail work was funded by government agencies like the CCC – Civilian Conservation Corps – in the 1930s and 40s, and now by a new CCC – California Conservation Corps. However, with decreases in government funding, most of the initiative and work devoted to trail creation and maintenance occurs through local, non-profit organizations.

Trail work occurs regularly here on the Central Coast and CNPS participates in these activities from time to time. During October and November of this year, we hosted two trail crew days in the Irish Hills, removing brush that had grown into the path and reworking the trail treads by moving rock and soil into place where it had slipped away. The trail work occurred in the Irish Hills, where the vast majority of plants trimmed back were Buck brush (Ceanothus cuneatus), Leather oak (Quercus durata), and Chaparral pea (Pickeringia montana). The tools used were pruning shears, loppers, small saws, and a rogue hoe. The area of focus was the Old Prospector Trail, a trail built three years ago by volunteers in association with the City of San Luis Obispo. The trail name comes from a route used by miners roughly 100 years ago to access cinnabar and chromium mines in the Irish Hills. This trail follows much of that route, climbing out of Froom Canyon through a side canyon to higher elevations where the remains of an old mine and ore processing area are still very much in evidence today. These hills are nearly all assembled of serpentine rock and contain great swaths of endemic plants.

The San Luis Star Tulip (Calochortus obispoensis), Chorro Creek Bog Thistle (Cirsium fontinale, var. obispoense), and San Luis Obispo Sedge (Carex obispoensis), endemic to a 100-mile radius of the city of San Luis Obispo, are abundant within this unusual landscape. Great swaths of Leather oak cover the north-facing slopes in a cascade of verdant textures. Giant tufts of California fescue (Festuca californica) are conspicuous along the trail in spots, creating waves of gray-green foliage. Perennial creeks flow over blue-green serpentine where the bog thistle, Western columbine (Aquilegia eximia) and two sneezeweeds (Helenium bigelovii and H. puberulum) can be found in bloom nearly all year. Several more rare species are found in these Irish Hills, which makes this area so special.

All CNPS members are invited to join a trail crew from time to time. A schedule of trail crew days taking place in the City of San Luis Obispo’s Open Space can be found at the Ranger Services page of the City’s website. A schedule of trail crew days outside the city limits of San Luis Obispo, can be found halfway down the page on the Central Coast Concerned Mountain Bikers (CCCMB) website. CCCMB builds and maintains trails for all outdoors user groups (hikers, bikers, equestrians, and trail runners). For trail crew activities in Santa Barbara County, link to the events calendar at Los Padres Forest Association and for activities in Monterey County, link to the Trail Program, at the Ventana Wilderness Association’s website. So, the next time we use a trail, let’s remember those who have built and maintained it.