In praise of trail angels.

Redlands Conservancy Secretary and Outdoor Ambassador Kathy Behrens pulling goathead. 

Practically speaking, Redlands Conservancy manages almost 30 linear miles of rural trails: 15 miles of trails, two sides of each trail. Like new residential developments built in the territory of regional wildlife, rural trails exist in weed territory, and the weeds are often hostile, leaving nasty thorns to puncture dog paws and bicycle tires, spreading growth that covers the trails and grabs the ankles, and harboring non-native grasses that hide the rattlesnakes.  

Redlands Conservancy has a small band of trail care warriors, and they are challenged to meet the demands of weed abatement to keep the trails open and safe for hikers, cyclists and equestrians.  

Occasionally, an anonymous trail care-giver swoops in to help clear the trails — we call these people the Trail Angels. We don’t know who they are, but we suspect they are neighbors who want the trails to be safe to use. Whoever they are, and whatever their reasons, Redlands Conservancy is grateful for their help.

The most prevalent nasty weed on the Orange Blossom Trail east and west is the puncturevine, aka goathead thorn or bull thorn. The plants spread low to the ground, and bear small yellow flowers that make the thorns that become one-half inch in diameter. If not removed, they will spread all across the trail, leaving behind their mean thorns, and return again next year. The plant has a single root, which goes straight into the ground, making the plant easy to remove.

Anyone who uses a trail can be a Trail Angel simply by stopping for five or 10 minutes each time and pulling out 20 plants. Once removed, the plants must be bagged and placed into a trash receptacle — definitely not a green waste bin.  

This brings up a significant point: conducting weed abatement on the trails is a bit more complicated than just pulling weeds.  

On the rural trails, including Creekside Trail, Teddy’s Trail and the trails at San Timoteo Nature Sanctuary and Herngt “Aki” Preserve, the non-native invasive plants that cause the problems may be imbedded with the native plants we want to nourish. In fact, the native plants will thrive once the non-natives are removed, which is another reason to conduct the weed abatement. This makes plant removal a sensitive process.  

The conservancy trains the Trail Care Stewardship Team to identify the natives and avoid them when using line trimmers and hand tools. Then the trimmed weeds are removed so they do not drop seeds and further spread the plants. The team is also trained to time the weed abatement to remove the plants prior to their seeds maturing.

Would-be Trail Angels are asked to be aware of the need to avoid removing native plants.

Still, some plants on the trail can’t be confused with native plants.

Russian thistle, aka tumbleweed, and the various mustard plants with peppery half-inch yellow flowers are unmistakable, and they clearly deserve their death sentence.

They can be removed by anyone with impunity, but their remains should be removed from the area in a bag that is deposited in a trash receptacle, not a green waste bin.

Keeping the trails weed-free and keeping the trail shoulders free of weeds that spread across the trail are ongoing maintenance, must-happen practices for the conservancy. Any time trail users feel compelled to take a few minutes to bend down and pull out a few of the offensive plants, the conservancy celebrates.

Ready to pull weeds?

For more information about the Trail Care Stewardship Team, visit redlandsconservancy.org.