UCSF Works to Restore Access to Mount Sutro After Storm Damage

A fallen tree that has been cut. A steel guard rail is dented where the tree fell on it during a strong storm.
An 80,000 lb. Blue Gum Eucalyptus tree collapsed two steel guard rails lining Medical Center Way in the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve during the recent storms that hit California during the first few months of 2023. The storms carried powerful and uncharacteristic south-easterly winds through the Sutro Forest causing several trees to fall and damage the landscape. Photo by Susan Merrell.

In the wake of this year’s multiple winter storms, UC San Francisco is working to clear and repair damage to trails, buildings, roads and retaining walls throughout the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve, to make it safe for San Franciscans to visit.

UCSF manages the 61-acre reserve, which has more than 5 miles of public, multi-use trails that are popular with hikers, trail runners, dog walkers and cyclists. Recent storms, including ones with heavy rain and 75 mph winds, produced significant damage.

“This is the worst we’ve ever seen,” says Morgan Vaisett-Fauvel, landscape and grounds program manager.

The damage mirrors the widespread weather-related damage seen in parks throughout San Francisco after a March 21 storm blew down hundreds of trees across the city.

Over the next few weeks, about 30 staff and contractors will be removing fallen trees and branches, mopping up flooded buildings, stabilizing soaked ground soil, and assessing aging and weak tree roots that continue to pose threats. “The reserve is dangerous right now, even if it looks OK,” Vaisett-Fauvel said. “The trained eye can see root structures that might be compromised and broken branches in the canopy. They might fall at any time.”

Vaisett-Fauvel’s crews have prioritized work on roads and artery trails to fully reopen access to medical and University buildings, as well as parking lots. The work means that cranes, tree removal trucks, loaders and arborists are onsite daily.

“We expect most of the cleanup to be completed in the next few weeks, but we’ll be working in the reserve for several months to fully address the storm damage in the interior areas,” said Erin Gore, senior vice chancellor of Finance and Administration at UCSF, whose department oversees the management of Mount Sutro. “We’ll also be integrating this restoration into our ongoing vegetation management and site work in preparation for a new hospital at Parnassus. We thank the community for their patience as we create a healthier and more accessible forest for visitors to enjoy.”  

A More Diverse Ecosystem Makes the Reserve Stronger

About 400 trees have fallen in the reserve since January. Despite the damage, things could have been worse, Vaisett-Fauvel said.

UCSF recently completed the first phase of the Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve community-based vegetation management plan. This work removed many dead and dying trees ahead of the winter storms and promoted the growth of more diverse native and climate-change-resistant ecosystems – moves meant to help mitigate similar impacts from single weather events in the future.

Vaisett-Fauvel asks that residents be patient as crews work to make the reserve safe, especially with more storms on the way. Once it is safe, UCSF plans to work with neighbors and volunteers, including the Sutro Stewards, to repair and restore trails.

“I welcome neighbors staying in contact about downed and dangerous trees, just to make sure we didn’t miss something,” Vaisett-Fauvel said.

Sutro forest at Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve. A man wearing a yellow reflective vest walks among the trees.

Learn more about the Mount Sutro Reserve and the work to keep it safe, sustainable and open for everyone to enjoy.

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