A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to keep our trails and open spaces safe and accessible for the community, to prevent erosion of soils so they support native plant growth, and for the safe passage of wildlife. Much of this is done by the Authority’s Field Operations team, a small, dedicated group who do whatever it takes make sure that 22,000 acres of open space land are maintained, every day of the year.
“The big goal of everything we do is to get property back to its natural state,” says Andy Burnside, Open Space Technician II. Throughout the year, the team works on a variety of projects to help protect against and remove invasive plant species, ensure water drainage systems are working and in place, and make sure that trails are maintained. Open Space Techs work in small teams, organized by geographic area and are responsible for maintaining the Authority’s various properties.
One of the projects the team is currently working on is a semi-annual trail “whipping” – a full length hike and assessment of all the trails on Authority properties, and yes even in the rain! The team members go out in the field with backpacks and hand tools and remove all grass and vegetation from the center of the trail and all low-hanging limbs that fall below 12 feet. The process, perfectly timed so that brush is in its last phase of growth, helps reduce tick exposure, keeps snakes off the trails, and helps improve visibility for mountain biking and horseback riding.
The field team is also currently working to replace fencing across several properties, to make it easier for wildlife to move through the properties while still allowing cattle to graze certain areas. Back in 2016, the Loma Fire ripped through the Santa Cruz Mountains, destroying most trees and vegetation that provided natural barriers to cattle grazing and movement. Now the team is working to build wildlife friendly fencing that can help to channel cattle into the right areas to graze and reduce future fire risk, while keeping them out of sensitive habitat and landscapes including wetland and riparian areas. Other recent projects include managing the North Pajaro River Agricultural Preserve cleanup and additional grazing infrastructure improvements.
“To do this job, you have got to be able to do a lot of different things,” says Burnside, who just recently started learning to weld and is using those skills on the job to build gates for the new fencing at Rancho Cañada del Oro Open Space Preserve (check out the video here). “I feel lucky to work with a really well-rounded group of people that use their expertise to further our mission.”
Beyond the borders of Authority preserves, the open space technicians are working as partners with other organizations to help protect and improve other parks and open spaces. The technicians who manage the north county properties, near Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve, maintain a satellite office inside the City of San Jose’s Alum Rock Park. In exchange, Authority techs provide 20 hours a month of trail maintenance to the city park, which helps the department stretch their maintenance resources.
Be sure to stop and hi the next time you see them on the trail!