DANVILLE -- Ross Smith's dream of returning the dilapidated Montair Nature Trail to its former glory is coming true.
The long-forgotten trail and park that abuts Montair Elementary School in Danville will be refurbished, thanks to the San Ramon Valley school district's generous help.
"I was absolutely gobsmacked. I was stunned," Smith said of the good news. "This is delightful."
The retired geologist stumbled onto the hidden-in-plain-sight gem a year ago when he was out for a stroll and came across a brass plaque buried in the field. It said "Maevis Wood Amphitheater" and caught his fancy. Some research at the Museum of the San Ramon Valley stirred up his desire to restore the park and trail.
The nature area was once owned by the Danville Union School District, now the San Ramon Valley Unified School District. The park and accompanying trail were developed by the Montair PTA in conjunction with the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions clubs. In addition to the amphitheater, the park featured an astronomy and weather station, wood picnic tables and benches, barbecue pits, water fountains and lighting.
After doing some research into the history of the park, built in 1963, Smith was determined to turn it from a forgotten wasteland for partying teens into a natural gem for the entire community to enjoy. He recruited the local Kiwanis Club to help with initial cleanup efforts and approached the school district for further help.
"We have a long history with this nature trail," said Gary Black, the school district's assistant superintendent of facilities and operations. "The trail is on our property, but it's just outside of the boundary of the school playground."
The trail is bordered on one side by the school's chain-link fence and a creek on the other. Additional park property extends beyond the creek. Currently, fencing is open at one end only, making the trail a one-way venture.
"If we open just one (other) end of that fence, then the public can walk the entire perimeter of the campus in this very natural, beautiful setting," Black said. "Making it so that people can access it just makes sense."
Improving the trail area would have happened eventually, Black noted, but Smith's interest in restoring the area expedited the process.
"We'll replace maybe 100 or 200 feet of chain link that really needs to be realigned and replaced anyway," Black said. "We're just opening up the nature trail for community use."
Smith and his Kiwanis Club buddies have already cleared quite a bit of dangerous debris from the trail. The school district will make further improvements by grading the trail and adding a rope-and-post fence to mark where the land slopes down to the creek. The entire project will cost the district between $5,000 and $10,000, Black estimated.
"It'll be a nice improvement for the school and for the community," he said. "People were going down there and doing things we really don't want. Once we have it cleaned up, it will be used by more of the community members."
In fact, some high school clubs plan to develop outdoor education curriculum that teachers can use to teach students about plants and geology along the trail, Black said.
"There's a lot to learn out there," Smith said. "It's a nice way for the children to get away from their iPads and see what's going on in the real world. We human beings need a place to calm down, look around and pause. My motto is 'Build it, and they will come.' "
Ross Smith hopes to raise $20,000 for boulders that represent the six major types of California rock. The boulders would be installed at the park. For more info, email Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations may be sent to: Kiwanis Club of San Ramon Valley, P.O. Box 404, Danville, CA 94526 (Write "Montair Nature Trail" on the memo line.)