By Lee Summers
Some people strive toward self-interest; others choose altruism instead. You can distinguish the two by the fruits of their labor. Did they make a difference in their community?
Take Quail Hollow Ranch County Park. This back road gem has maintained an active volunteer program since the 1990s. Over the years, volunteer efforts divided into various specialties. In 2002, Al Keuter (pronounced Koitr) walked through the visitor center doors interested in trail repairs… at first.
Keuter installed trail signs, cleaned out water bars, pruned back vegetation, and more, using his own tools and on a trail crew of one. Once complete, he turned his attention toward extending the sunset trail into a loop — a project outlined in the Quail Hollow Master Plan.
Keuter flagged, constructed, and maintained the eastern, half-mile climb of the Woodrat Trail solo. From there, another volunteer joined him, Tim Jolly, and together they built the rest of the one-mile route to the Sunset Trail junction.
Eventually, two others joined the crew, Jon Hudson and Richard James, just in time to construct portals in order to keep horses off the new narrow trail. They hauled, by hand, bags of cement, gallons of water, rebar, lumber, and tools — totaling over 350 pounds — nearly a mile and up about 400 feet, a job that took just two workdays to complete!
Keuter also scouted and flagged a route to and through the Pace Family Wilderness to eventually provide access from the Quail Hollow trail system to this county-owned land. The problem was that the two properties were not contiguous. He contacted and maintained a relationship with the interposing owners, which aided in developing an easement across the property for eventual public access.
Beyond trails, Keuter created a park butterfly booklet and checklists of the park’s reptiles, amphibians, dragonflies, and damselflies. He built two cabinets for mammal display and developed his botanical prowess by organizing and expanding the Quail Hollow Plant List into a comprehensive inventory. Through his surveys, he discovered that Quail Hollow contained more than a quarter of the entire Santa Cruz County plant species record. He also became a recognized authority and coauthor on native California red oaks and serves as volunteer vascular plants curator at the University of California Herbarium.
Over the decades, Keuter led the trail crew, educating his team not only on trail maintenance and construction but also on the rare species of plants that need protecting. He guided park visitors along the trails, revealing the secret hiding places of unique and rare plants, as well as authored volunteer newsletter articles about park trails and plant life.
Throughout his years of service, he has given over 4,700 hours to the benefit of all who visit Quail Hollow Ranch, and he’s done it with aplomb and a smile.
For his commitment, service, and leadership, the Santa Cruz County Parks Department along with Friends of Quail Hollow Ranch dedicated the Woodrat Trail to Al Keuter. The next time you enter through the trail portal, you might take note of his plaque.
The quality of a person isn’t measured by the size of their house or the likes they get or how many people recognize their name. Their quality is measured by the positive influence they have in their community, whether others know it or not. Although Keuter is officially retired from the trail crew, his work motivated others and lives on in those who still meet every Tuesday morning to maintain trails.
Meanwhile, Al Keuter still wanders through the park with family and friends, botanizing, not only enjoying the fruits of his past trail labors but also setting more seeds as he shares his knowledge and passion of this special place. The man just can’t quit.
That is the sign of someone who has made a difference: everyone benefited––including himself.
Lee Summers is a member of the Board of Directors at Friends of Quail Hollow. Lee worked as an interpreter and volunteer coordinator at the Park for 16 years before retiring.
Featured photo: Al Keuter at Woodrat Trail at Quail Hollow Ranch Park. Photo contributed.
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