Mora Drive residents Richard and Esther Blanchard enter Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve armed with tools and trash bags. Volunteering their energies for the past three years, hardly a day goes by that they don’t do something to improve the park.
Their initial goal was to remove thistles from the Mora Drive trail.
“We bumped into a park ranger one day and said, ‘We don’t like these thistles – can anything be done?’” Richard Blanchard recalled. “He said there’s a program for people who want to volunteer.”
The ranger was referring to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s Advanced Resource Management Stewards (ARMS) program. According to the ARMS website, volunteers “actively participate in resource management of open-space lands (and) work independently on their own resource management project(s) on their own schedule.” The program was launched in 2005, and volunteers now log many hundreds of hours per year.
Blanchard said basic tools are supplied, and they’ve added some of their own. Tools vary, depending on what they’re after. The primary culprits are purple thistle, milk thistle and yellow star thistle; thistles, he said, are “obnoxious as a plant.”
“You start in spring and try to catch it when you can,” he said. “This time of year, you can have a significant impact on the seeds that are distributed. Our approach is straightforward: Don’t let them go to seed – get them while you can.”
The Blanchards work in other parts of the open- space district as well, and different days find them in different regions or sections. They typically work alone, but once in a while they work with the rangers and coordinate their schedule around when open-space workers mow or create firebreaks.
Thistles aren’t the only ongoing problem in the preserve.
“Almost every day we take an hour or two-hour walk and pick up trash,” Blanchard said.
On a “good day,” he noted, they fill up two small bags of trash, which they take home with them for disposal. Although tissues and bottles are the most common, they have found clothing and even two flash drives, one of which they were able to return to its owner.
Blanchard has a request for the litterbugs: “If you’re going to throw it, throw it a foot or two off the trail so we can get it easily,” rather than deep in the brush.
Wildlife sightings are a side benefit of the work. They encounter mostly turkeys and deer, but also wild cats, bobcats, skunks and raccoons, along with tarantulas, king snakes, rattlesnakes and birds of prey such as kites and goshawks.
Feedback ranges from gratitude to strange looks from passersby. For neighbor Judy Klein, it’s the former.
“We really appreciate the job that Esther and Richard are doing to keep our park clean,” she said. “Thank you for taking care of our preserve.”