If the weeds in Portola Valley's Spring Down Open Space Preserve had ears and could pick up conversations from a distance, they would be whispering worriedly among themselves – if they could whisper – about how to survive the dreaded practice insensitively referred to by humans as weeding.
Weeds are the subject of the first six steps of a 14-step, three-year $145,500 pilot program prepared by the town's Conservation Committee and discussed at the Town Council's Oct. 24 meeting. Weeds would be mowed, hand-pulled, assessed and replaced by wildflowers.
Such a program has been successful in Los Altos Hills and Woodside, Committee Chair Judith Murphy told the council. "It actually does work remarkably well without a lot of laborious, much more expensive attention – if you just do this mowing right," she said.
Careful mowing "should make a really big impact there" and lower the preserve's maintenance costs for years, Murphy said. Every step in the weed removal process is important, she added.
The first year's expenses at Spring Down would run to $63,500, the cost of necessary tree trimming, Public Works Director Howard Young said. That figure includes $14,500 from the Open Space Acquisition fund, the staff report says. The cost in each of the two remaining years would be $41,000, Young said.
Town Hall staff can analyze the program for effectiveness after three years, Young said, adding that it could be tweaked on an intermediate basis. The program would use contractors to do the work.
Murphy spoke to the council in support of two amendments to the current budget. With 10 percent added on for contingencies, the cost of the Spring Down plan this year came to $70,000. An additional $34,000 is needed for one-time maintenance of plant beds and other vegetated spots in the Town Center, which is now 10 years old. The council approved the amendments unanimously.
The town bought Spring Down in 2000 for $3.25 million. After a series of community meetings in 2010, the council by consensus decided to keep it rustic and open. In recent years, the focus has been on renovating a seasonal pond. Because the project involves a water resource, state and federal agencies had to weigh in.
The pond work is now complete, and it has acquired a name: Heron Pond, after the great blue heron that frequents the area. In the meantime, Murphy said, the rest of Spring Down has come to resemble a vacant lot. Thus the need for weeding.
Spring Down is one of five major open-space parcels in need of ongoing maintenance and oversight, Murphy noted. A committee report lists the other four as the frog pond near Corte Madera School, the Ford and Rossotti playing fields along Alpine Road, and the 11.2-acre Town Center.
The report describes Triangle Park, at the intersection of Alpine and Portola roads, as deserving of individual oversight and maintenance, but at a lesser level. Earlier, Murphy explained to the council that because Triangle Park is doing well, it does not require much attention.
For this fiscal year, which began in July, the pilot program may include a day or two of foraging goats, establishing a habitat for monarch butterflies and monitoring the "various micro-climates and habitats to develop a plan for appropriate differential care," the staff report says.