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Barbara Palmer, News Service: (650) 724-6184,

Committee for Dish recreation use issues final report

In their final report, the nine members of the Provost's Advisory Committee on the Recreational Use of the Dish called for "careful efforts to preserve the balance between restoration and recreation" in the Dish area.

The May 28 report carried a proposal, which has been implemented, suggesting that the hours of visitor access to the Dish area more closely match daylight hours. The university also will implement a second committee proposal suggesting that signs informing visitors of the Dish area's history and ongoing conservation activities be installed.

The committee, made up of community members, campus leaseholders, students and a researcher who works at the Dish, was headed by Russ Fernald, professor of human biology, and has met once each quarter since Fall 2001 to review recreational use at the Dish area and to suggest possible changes to use regulations.

Fernald, who has been running in the Dish area for nine years, said he and other committee members were "stunned" to learn that more than an estimated 300,000 visitors would walk or run on the Dish trails this year. The number of visitors grew from an estimated 21,300 per month in 2001 to 25,270 visitors per month in 2002, according to records kept by community service officers, who have been monitoring recreational use at the Dish since 2000. Almost 60 percent of the visitors to the Dish area were not affiliated with Stanford, according to a May 2001 survey conducted by an independent research firm, the report said.

The Dish is "far and away the most visited area in this part of the Peninsula," compared with nearby parks and recreation areas, according to the report. "It's unprecedented to have such a large piece of private land open to the public," Fernald said.

Adjustments to the hours that the Dish area is open to the public, which were made beginning in April, were in response to user requests and to be consistent with the "dawn until half an hour before sunset" access policy announced in May 2000. Changing the hours to mirror hours of daylight has reduced the density of visitors, since the Dish area is open longer during the summer when the Dish area is most heavily used, Fernald said.

In the report, committee members pointed out an ongoing problem with parking congestion along Stanford Avenue. Since Stanford Avenue is a county road, "we were stuck. We didn't really know what we could do about that," Fernald said.

Restoring native grasses

The report also addressed the Center for Conservation Biology's ongoing environmental restoration projects in the Dish area, including experiments designed to develop affordable methods for large-scale restoration of native grasses and other vegetation. Environmental degradation had occurred at the Dish area prior to 2000, when "few of the posted regulations (stay on the service roads, dogs only on leashes, etc.) were followed," the report said. In 2000, dogs were banned from the Dish area.

After small-scale experiments showed that covering the ground with tarps during the early growing season could reduce the growth of invasive exotics like black mustard by half, researchers from the center began experimenting with the tarps on a larger scale, covering 30-meter-by-30-meter swaths of hillsides. The initial results of the large-scale experiment are promising, said biologist Sean Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow who is working on the foothills restoration.

Later this year, researchers plan to build a series of ponds that will restore seasonal wetlands habitat to the area, which can be seen on maps that date back to the 1700s, Anderson said. A solar-powered weather station that will help researchers monitor variables affecting restoration efforts also has been installed in the Dish area.

As restoration work in the area continues, "we thought it would be most helpful to let users understand better what was going on," Fernald said. Signs explaining the restoration work will be installed beginning later this year, said Charles Carter, who works in the University Architect and Planning Office and was an ex-officio member of the committee. The committee also worked with the university to make the signs now posted at entry gates more "user-friendly," Carter said.

Following the adoption of the conservation and recreational use plan that was announced in May 2000, "what I have observed as a scientist is a real and substantial change in the variety and number of animals and plants," Fernald said, adding that he's spotting wildlife including foxes, moles, kites and redwing blackbirds on his runs.

The May 2001 survey also reported that 79 percent of users surveyed approved of the new Dish policy, according to the report.

"The public's response to the new constraints has been heartening," Fernald said. "People realize it's a price you have to pay for having a beautiful space next to a highly populated area."


By Barbara Palmer

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