By Joan Walsh
There is a magical forested place in the middle of San Francisco that many people have never heard of: Mt. Sutro.
Mount Sutro is home to a lush 61-acre open space reserve owned by UCSF. The land was formerly owned by Adolph Sutro, a large landowner and San Francisco mayor from 1894-1896. He donated part of his land to UCSF before his death. The space is currently open to the public with trails for hiking.
The Sutro Stewards formed in 2006 working in partnership with UCSF to help conserve the mountain. Their Mission statement is ‘to build community, connect people with nature, and protect and enhance Mount Sutro. This is achieved by working with volunteers to create and maintain trails and conserve the habitat for locally native plants and wildlife’.
Sutro Stewards currently help build and maintain over 4 miles of trails on the mountain. They have a nursery program which grows thousands of native plants for seeds or cuttings each year which support the conservation program performing habitat restoration activities on the mountain such as removing invasive species. Native plants are planted during the rainy season after the invasive plants have been removed.
The Sutro Stewards could not do all their work without a large influx of volunteers. Anyone can sign up to volunteer no experience needed. Volunteer sessions are for Conservation which is working in the nursery or Trail and Habitat Stewardship which works on clearing the trials of invasive species on the mountain.
The Trail and Habitat Stewardship runs sessions every other weekend. It’s physically demanding with bending, climbing, and pulling of plants. It’s great for a workout and to get involved in something physically active.
For Conservation, volunteers sign up for shifts that are available 2 days a week. Each volunteer work session in the nursery starts with a homage to the Ramaytush Ohlone People in which Mount Sutro sits on their traditional lands. Volunteers then divide themselves into groups in which station they’d like to work on. Some activities the nursery volunteers are involved in are washing pots, pruning plants, planting seeds, and plant propagation.
Kelly Dodge and Abigail Alfonso run the volunteer sessions for the nursery each week. Dodge, the Program manager got involved in Sutro Stewards because she wanted to be out in nature. With a degree in science and Environmental Studies Sutro Stewards seemed like a good fit for her.
One of the main projects of Sutro Stewards is removing invasive species and replacing with native plants. “Invasive species come from other climates in other countries that are similar to California. When they are brought here, they are in the perfect condition to grow and thrive but there’s no natural predators or system to keep them in check. So, in their country of origin, they will have predation like birds or insects eating them. When they come to California all that is gone so they are in their prefect growing condition with nothing keeping them in check so they are growing rapidly and quickly so they tend to outcompete the native plants and will push them out and eradicate them in a sense”, said Dodge.
When asked which plant was the most invasive Dodge and Alfonso emphatically agreed on Himalayan blackberry bushes. These thorny plants align the trails with blackberries in the summer but take over other plants and are hard to get rid of.
All different types of people sign up to volunteer including college students, high school students, retirees, and professionals in between jobs. ‘After the pandemic I think people have realized that the environment and being outdoors is good for their health and so we are seeing a lot of folks who are pivoting in their careers or at least exploring it’, said Alfonso.
To get involved in volunteering one can go to the Sutro Stewards website: www.sutrostewards.org.
From here volunteers can sign up for weekly conservation work in the nursery or bi-monthly trail work.
The conservation work is for 2-hour shifts on every Wednesday and Thursday from 9:30-11:30. The trail maintenance is every other weekend on Sat from 9am-12.
Sutro stewards also offers unpaid internships for school credit and can give credit for community service requirements.
They also have opportunities for corporate and team building volunteer events.