By Fred Allebach

The Sonoma Overlook Trail stewards will soon be doing some trail maintenance to minimize switchback cut-offs and social trails. Six Hanna boys will volunteer to help.

Over the years, it has been a struggle to manage switchback cutting and keep people on the trail. The Overlook Trail hillside has a history of extracurricular use and many social trails are well established that predate the SOT itself. Current projects will focus primarily on switchback cut offs.

As it works out on the ground, trail users see ways to cut off long switchbacks and take a short cut. Runners and exercise-focused people may cut switchbacks because they are looking for steep inclines to get their heart rate up. Short cuts to the top are taken for multiple reasons and purposes. Whoever the user and whatever their purpose, when a new shortcut gets opened, more users feel tempted to go that way. The bulk of users may not know why it is important to stay on the trail, to not cut switchbacks.

Rationale for staying on the trail and not cutting switchbacks: The primary purpose of the trail is to give people access to public land, nature and recreational opportunities. The trail is the common avenue people use to access this land and possibly find something special, in contrast to life in the city. Over time, the trail erodes and needs to be managed and maintained. By keeping good trails, opportunities for people to experience nature are ensured for the long haul.

Cutting switchbacks is not an intended use of the trail. Cut-offs and social trails are not maintained for drainage or safety. The trail is constructed with grades that avoid steep inclines and declines. This keeps water and soil erosion to a minimum. Switchback cut-offs often take too steep a grade, which ultimately causes higher levels of erosion. The more people walk on cut-offs, the more these areas appear like an official trail. Whole hillsides become an unsightly patchwork of social trails and short-cuts antithetical to having the landscape be a natural showcase accessed by well-graded, easy to maintain trails.

Trail managers everywhere struggle with people cutting off switchbacks, and on Park Service land the penalty for cutting off switchbacks carries a fine, the same as other illegal uses. Staying on the trail shows you honor the overall conservation qualities the trail was designed to showcase in the first place. Please stay on the trail and allow the areas in question to re-seed and return to a natural state.

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Fred Allebach is a steward of the Sonoma Overlook Trail.