Watershed Keepers are responsible for inspecting, maintaining, protecting and patrolling watershed lands and trails in all types of weather conditions. They monitor watershed lands for security, contamination, trespass activity and clean-up.
On any given day they may collect water samples for analysis, record data from gauges, measure reservoir levels, water releases, and precipitation, operate valves, identify necessary repairs, remove debris; repair of fences and gates, and report and respond to various emergencies.
Watershed Keepers typically live on the land. Cottages are sprinkled about the SFPUC watershed lands that provide year-round housing for the resident keepers. Sometimes the housing is used by multiple generations of keepers.
The Historical Archives contains a fairly robust amount of reference material by watershed keepers and about watershed cottages. Repairs, upgrades, rebuilding and stocking of keeper’s cottages were documented as part of doing business. What follows is the blueprint plan for a new cottage at the Peninsula’s Sawyer Camp location from 1932. As with many old blueprints, the document itself is quite lovely. And as one can see, the interior design is practical but comfortable. And the exterior design is beyond practical to pretty.
Leander Sawyer, not a true watershed keeper, but an early resident of the same areas as the location for aforementioned cottage, bought some land there in 1853. At the time it was an isolated valley to the west of the only road up and down the Peninsula, which was El Camino Real.
During the 1850s and 1860s, Sawyer grazed cattle in the area to keep down the brush and make a better area for incoming wagons. The Sawyer Camp Trail was Sawyer’s access to his camp (south of the laurel tree) where he kept an inn to dispense food to picnickers, and to serve as a lodging place for horsemen traveling through the area.
Later, the trail was used by the stagecoach from Millbrae, which connected with the San Mateo Stageline to Half Moon Bay (Spanish Town). The stagecoach arrived at the property that Sawyer owned (later Spring Valley property) on its daily run from San Mateo to Half Moon Bay.
When the City of San Francisco took over the watershed lands, narrow and winding Sawyer Camp Trail was then a county road. The mostly gravel road was open for vehicular traffic from dawn to dusk, until 1978.
In 1978, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors designated the road a non-vehicular recreation trail and paved it for bicycles with funds provided by the State Department of Parks and Recreation. It also served many hikers, joggers, and equestrians, and is one of the most popular facilities operated by the San Mateo County Parks Department.