Ross Smith visits an overgrown patch of land behind Montair Elementary School every other week to combat noxious poison oak and Himalayan blackberry growth. A self-proclaimed "committee of one," the Danville man is more than a foe of dangerous vines.
Smith aims to restore the Montair Nature Trail, a 2.7-acre park that formerly housed picnic grounds, a 400-seat amphitheater, a weather station and astronomy site and an outdoor classroom. Built in 1963 by the Danville Union School District, PTA and other community organizations, Danville's first park didn't last long.
"By 1966-67 the Age of Aquarius was upon us, and soon the park became party-central for the entire area. Large bonfires and loud parties were frequent on weekends, and Danville was without a police force to preserve and protect," Smith wrote, adding that the town was unincorporated at the time and depended on a Sheriff's station in Alamo.
During this time, the amphitheater, picnic tables and fences were destroyed to feed bonfires. Eventually, the park's lighting fixtures were taken away, and both water and electricity were disconnected.
When Smith happened upon the park a few years ago, he found a single walnut tree, large oaks, a litter-filled stream bed, the remains of the trails and a small plaque marked "Maevis Wood Amphitheater 1966."
"Once the park disappeared, the school district sort of lost interest in it. Someone offered to buy the land in the late '70s or early '80s but local residents strongly objected to having it sold off," Smith continued. "The school board said they wouldn't sell it off and would have it become a nature area ... but they never followed up with it."
The Montair Nature Trail is still owned by San Ramon Valley Unified School district, which was unavailable for comment, but Smith has taken cleanup efforts into his own hands. A geologist and neighbor of the park, Smith said he would like to see children learn and explore in the area.
"The intention is to remake a trail, we don't want to rebuild the picnic area or amphitheater. I want to make a simple walking trail that is a pleasant place to walk," he said. "The only thing there now are kids that go down there with bikes doing jumps, other kids doing exploration. But there's so much poison oak that it's become a problem."
To that end, Smith helped organize volunteers from the Kiwanis Club of the San Ramon Valley to clear trails, remove brush and downed trees, pick up trash, and remove iron spikes that were previously used as anchors for tree stump seats.
"It is our goal to actually become instrumental in creating an environment and putting the healthiness, so to speak, back in the park," said Kiwanis board member Marge Jensen. "We've already been out there a couple of times cleaning trash, moving branches, making it a safe place to be."
A local Boy Scout will also remove tree stumps from the nearby creek and form an outdoor seating area for his Eagle Scout project.
Smith would like to restore the outdoor classroom component of the Montair Trail to include seating and a geological exhibit on California rock types such as granites, columnar basalts and serpentine. The rocks, which must be large enough to prevent vandalism, will cost approximately $1,000 each and Smith hopes to raise money from local service organizations.
Deborah Christman, a fifth-grade teacher at Montair Elementary and a landscape architect, drew a rough design of the trail for Smith. The design includes small benches and a sign near a large oak tree, which is roughly the size of Danville's Old Oak on Diablo Road.
"This particular bit of ground, the restored Montair Nature Trail, is intended to be a simple, quiet, shady path to wander; a convenient retreat from frenzy -- a place to pause. This pleasant place is surely at the very bottom of the park-building hierarchy, so it will rise only with the efforts of all of us," Smith said.
For more information, contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or mail queries to:
Montair Nature Trail
P.O. Box 404
Danville, CA 94526