Bay Area Ridge Trail Service Day links Solano Land Trust to the City of Vallejo

Volunteer work on November 4th could jumpstart
an era of improvement

By Samuel James Adams

One of the most iconic parks in Vallejo, Solano County’s most populous city, Blue Rock Springs Park, hardly keeps a low profile. Its famous peacocks yaw and moan. Its sulfurous springs touch the noses of picnickers. And paragliders soaring above the grassy slopes nearby are visible from Columbus Parkway and I-80.

Behind that park, hills near the giant serpentine and cinnabar outcroppings allow panoramic views of the Vallejo cityscape.
But perhaps you didn’t know that approximately thirteen acres of those hills—popular with joggers, families, and anyone who loves a good view—are managed by Solano Land Trust, or that the path running through here is a leg of the utopian, massive, and still-growing project known as the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Rocks above the path at Blue Rock Springs

“Ridge Trail Service Day is our largest annual trail project,” says Bob Berman, of Benicia, who serves on the Ridge Trail Board of Directors. “Each year in November the Bay Area Ridge Trail partners with local land managers to host a myriad of volunteer trail work parties around the Bay Area to build and improve sections of the Ridge Trail.”

If you join us on Saturday, November 4th, you will help improve a portion of the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail—and you’ll put a better face on the most highly used section of the Vallejo Swett Ranch, a 900-acre working ranch with frog ponds and unique geologic features.

No shortcuts for sustaining healthy ecosystems
Solano Land Trust Project Manager Jasmine Westbrook-Barsukov, who will be leading the event with Field Technician Olivia Freitas, hopes the day inaugurates a more active era of volunteerism on this special property.

The zig-zagging Ridge Trail path meanders up towards cinnabar and serpentine outcroppings, giving hikers on the ridge a broad view of Vallejo and the Napa River. It’s the home stretch of the longest annual hike through Solano Land Trust’s properties.

“This section of trail is a portion of the Ridge Trail’s annual spring Solano Overnight hike which is sponsored jointly with the Solano Land Trust,” notes Bob. The two-day event covers approximately 20 miles.

Unfortunately, Jasmine notes, users of the park have found its switchbacks too meandering and created a “social trail” through the deliberately designed one.

The National Park Service defines a social trail as “an unofficial, user-created path that forms over time, as visitors take detours off of designated trails.”

“While it may seem more practical or expedient to go straight up the hill, a trail that runs straight up and down a slope can turn into a path for water to flow rapidly downhill, increasing erosion and decreasing infiltration,” says Jasmine. “The sinuosity [the waving, serpent-like form] of the official trail is designed to shed water in a way that will not create erosion problems. The zigzag is there to protect the ecosystem and make the trail more sustainable.”

Lichen growing on the rocks at Blue Rock Springs

Putting on a new face for well-trod park
The zigzag trail could be a great place to articulate the mission and priorities of the Solano Land Trust to Vallejo residents and visitors to Blue Rock Springs Park.

Unfortunately, many of the Solano Land Trust signs are faded or graffitied over, making messaging a challenge.

“We have an opportunity to improve our signage, and maybe one day branch the trail into the neighboring Greater Vallejo Recreation District trail,” Jasmine says, hoping the upcoming event generates interest and momentum.

Future work on the property can help better balance human enjoyment with the long-term preservation of the park’s geologic features and the endemic serpentine plants that grow amidst the heavy metals around the rocks.

“Tiburon buckwheat, a rare native plant, could potentially prosper there if weeds didn’t outcompete it,” Jasmine says.

Regarding the plants and thistles found here, Jasmine is quick to add that the invasive fennel growing in the park is the same kind people eat—and volunteers are welcome to take a bite home.

A view of the Vallejo Swett path behind Blue Rock Springs Park

An overly steep social trail in Vallejo Swett

A glimpse of future recreation at Vallejo’s borders
The paths behind Blue Rock offer but a glimmer of the 900-acre Vallejo Swett property, which is a long way from being in any condition for a full public opening.

But these lands are safeguarded for future generations, and nothing builds enthusiasm like putting them in conversation with parks that are already popular—and with an amazing project like the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Improving the usability and ecological condition of these thirteen acres is a great first step to increasing the stature of the Vallejo Swett property and helping connect Vallejo residents with the work of Solano Land Trust.

The makeover starts Saturday morning at 9 at the Blue Rock Springs Parking lot.