Dish marks conservation 10th anniversary

Sept. 22, 2010, 2:02 a.m.

Ten years ago, when he was an undergraduate at Stanford, Jeff Schwegman ’01 camped out with some of his classmates at the top of the Dish, a 2,400-acre area of the campus reserved for both academic projects and habitat conservation. He remembers hiking up dirt paths, seeing snakes slither across his path and, most memorably, watching the sun set.

Returning to campus this year as an IHUM teaching fellow, Schwegman can’t help but notice the changes the Dish has undergone in his absence.

Dish marks conservation 10th anniversary
Visitors run the Dish loop on a sunny day. The Dish attracted more than 500,000 visitors per year last year, up from 400,000 in 2008.

“It’s a little less like the Wild West now,” he says.

That’s because in 2000, spurred by an increase in the number of recreational users of the area, Stanford’s Land Use and Environmental Planning Department decided to implement a new conservation and land use plan, with the goal of trying to minimize human impact on the area. This September marks the 10th anniversary of the Dish’s environmental plan.

The Dish’s history stretches back to the 1980s, when Stanford opened the area to the public, allowing community members to hike and jog along an authorized dirt route. But without any management of the area, other paths not authorized by the University were created. These 12 miles of “bootleg” routes caused land erosion and came close to both University facilities and wildlife habitats.

“If you have recreational users around those types of facilities and infrastructures, it could really put them at risk and complicate the use of those things,” said Charles Carter, director of land use and environmental planning.

The 2000 conservation and land use plan was designed to help solve this problem — but the Dish now attracts more visitors than ever before, according to the University. Carter said approximately half a million people visit the Dish annually, up from between 300,000 and 400,000 a decade ago.

“It’s probably not a good thing for conservation purposes, and it’s probably not a good thing for University operations, but it’s a good thing from a community-relations perspective,” Carter said. “It makes for some good-neighbor policy.”

Dana Harrold, a resident of Palo Alto who has been going to the Dish since she moved to the area in 1992, said she sees benefits to the number of visitors.

“The more time people can spend out in nature, the more sensitive they’ll be to the need to preserve it,” she said.

But not all neighbors are pleased with the new policies. Tom French, another runner who started coming to the Dish four months ago, said he wishes he could bring his dog on hikes with him, an act that is prohibited under the 2000 plan.

The rationale for this provision, Carter said, is that pets would endanger wildlife that is already there. He also recalled a time when pets were allowed to come to the Dish.

“When it was open to dogs, it was pretty foul up there,” Carter said. “There was a lot of dog waste in the Dish, and [specifically] at the Stanford Avenue gate entrance.”

Projects in the works for the Dish include a plan to put up interpretative signs that explain what the Dish lands are used for — not just recreation, but conservation and academic interests. While the plan was shelved in the past, Carter said the University might pursue it in the future.

And while Schwegman said the Dish is a little more “draconian” since the last time he saw it, he also added: “But I still love it.”

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