Where Restoration Plans Came True

This weekend, the Oakland Heritage Alliance offers a first-ever walking tour through Shepherd Canyon.  When the trains stopped running, decades ago, the State considered and abandoned highway development plans.  It’s time to imagine what might have been, and to appreciate how long-term, low-impact plans came true.

In 1975, the City of Oakland prepared the first Shepherd Canyon Corridor Plan and Environment Impact Report.  The documents covered a wide range of development and criteria for the canyon.  Some 12.6 acres were set aside for the Railroad Trail, along with another 5.4 acres allocated to the Shepherd Creek Trail.  There’s been slow, but steady, restoration progress since then.

Mother Nature has pushed projects along this year, especially to improve driving and walking conditions.  In 2011, the City has been installing necessary storm drains along with guard rails.  Some openings in the rails, for walker access, are getting cut soon.  Even with budget crunches, Oakland’s Measure B made this nearly three-quarter million spend possible.

The Shepherd Canyon Park and trails have come alive through local volunteers, like all of our Montclair nature-scapes.  Beyond the actively used soccer play fields, there have been efforts to remove trash, clear brush, build benches, install signs and create welcome gates.  The trails are (always) a work-in-progress, yet are very nice already.

The Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA) has awarded Shepherd Canyon with a Partners In Preservation award, especially for its interpretative signs and improvements.  For their Saturday tour, they have asked Mike Petouhoff to lead a two-hour tour on the trails.  As Shepherd Canyon Homeowner Association (SCHA) president, Mike is our resident expert on all-things Shepherd Canyon — and you’re guaranteed to learn a lot!

More info: The Shepherd Canyon walking tour takes off from the Montclair Recreation Center (map).  You will need comfortable walking shoes, though it’s not a difficult trek.  This tour runs from 10 am-noon, and may end up with a lingering lunch in the Village.  Please show up a few minutes early to register.  As an OHA benefit, donations are requested:  $15/non-members; $10/members; $5/kids; free/kids under 10 years old.

Update: Our Oakland took the Shepherd Canyon walking tour and reported it here. Also check out all the accompanying photos.

Earth Day 2011: Pick Your Spot

Next Saturday, Oakland is celebrating Earth Day 2011.  It’s easy to get involved in clearing our creek watersheds and parks all year long, but this day puts Gaia Earth on a pedestal.  Join your Montclair neighbors, working to clean-up one of eleven nearby spots — from 9:00 am through noon.

Here are the registered Montclair locations, along with maps, work plans and key contacts.  Remember to bring your own tools, gloves, hat and sunscreen!

  • Friends of Sausal Creek/Nursery Event – 3594 Sanborn Road (map) – native plant propagation – Megan Hess (325-9006)
  • Butters Canyon Conservatory – 3514 Butters Drive (map) – cut & clean, creek & park – Delores Apton (dapton@gmail.com)
  • Beaconsfield Canyon Restoration – 2639 Beaconsfield Place (map) – cut & clean at creek – Richard Kauffman (richard@rkcommunications.com)
  • Lower Merriewood Stairs Volunteer Group – 5612 Merriewood Drive (map) – cut & clean, planting, graffiti removal stairs – Jim Dexter (jimdexter@aol.com)
  • Montclair Safety Improvement Council – Montclair Park at Mountain Blvd, near tennis courts (map) – cut & clean park – Jim Clardy, Jill Broadhurst (jmclardy@sbcglobal.net)
  • Abbott Drive Neighbors – 51 Abbott Drive (map) – cut & clean, staircase, neighborhood – Jim Gavin (547-2301)
  • Piedmont Pines/Marjorie Saunders Park – Ascot & Chelton Drives (map) – clean up & graffiti removal – Elaine Geffen (elaineofpew@sbcglobal.net)
  • Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association – 5879 Escher Drive, at yellow fire gate (map) – cut & clean, creek & park – Adrienne Bryant (bryantah@lmi.net)
  • Friends of Montclair Railroad Trail – Snake Road Bridge at Trail (site) – cut & clean trail – Lin Barron (montclairrrtrail.org)
  • LaMasNa Neighborhood Association – Larry Lane & Mastlands Drive (map) – cut & clean neighborhood – Steve Everhart (severhart11@gmail.com)
  • Montera Association & Joaquin Miller School – 5525 Ascot Drive (map) – cut & clean, planting, school – Linda Ortiz (gabygol@sbcglobal.net)

Don’t Forget Leona Canyon, This Year

All the bigger parks usually get our attention, but we did another full walk at Leona Canyon over the holidays.  You ramble through a beautiful canyon, complete with “babbling brook” sound effects.

Start at the southern Canyon Oaks trail head, right past the condos.  Now walk from this open area into the woods after a quarter mile or so.  This is the nicest wide trail, with a slight uphill grade as the canyon envelops you.  You could stop by the bench and return, for a quick 1.5 mile walk with the dog or kids.

Leona Canyon Map

There are other options, too.  Less than a mile in, you may turn right on an unmarked trail (Artemisia) that rises several hundred feet, ending near Skyline Blvd.  Or continue along and catch the signed trail (Pyrite) on the left, which meanders up the opposite canyon hillside.  Both of these trails are very good uphill workouts, and I highly recommend them.

If you keep going on the main canyon trail, then you will eventually head up and up to Merritt College.  The views make this out-and-back 2.7 miler worth it.  You feel so removed, yet are just tucked away from the surrounding ridges and civilization.

Want company the first time?  The East Bay Regional Park District has planned some special Leona Canyon events.  Learn about the indigenous peoples and how they lived among the berries and willows, appreciate the local birds, or else go for a nice walk with Fido and his friends in the canyon.  Here are details:

  • Sunday Stroll — February 20th, from 10:00am – 12:00pm.  Sara Fetterly will lead this moderate hike from Canyon Oaks trailhead to Merritt College and back.  Native American plant uses are highlighted along this scenic path.  This short stroll is great for families, and dogs are welcome.  No advanced registration is needed.  For more info, call (510) 544-3187.
  • Tuesdays For The Birds — March 15th, from 7:30am – 9:30am.  Enjoy bird life with guide Bethany Facendi, through Leona Canyon.  All levels of birding experience welcome.  Bring water, sunscreen and binoculars or scopes.   No advanced registration is needed, but call (510) 544-2233 for trailhead location.
  • Volunteer Day — Sunday, March 20th, from 10:00am – 2:00pm.  Help showcase the self-guided trail “Local Indian Uses of Plants.”  Protect and promote featured native plants by weeding and pulling non-native invasive grasses and shrubs, and selectively pruning native plants.  Lunch, tools and gloves provided by leader Mike Charnofsky, and volunteers ages 10+ are welcomed at the Merritt College trailhead.  Registration is required, by calling 888-327-2757 (option 2, 3) or online (program #26057).
  • Birding By Ear — Sunday, March 27th, from 9:30am – 11:30am.  Join Michael Charnofsky for this concert experience.  Yes, it does count when you identify a bird by its song. Learn to identify bird songs in this beautiful canyon.  Meet at the Canyon Oaks Dr. Staging Area.  No advanced registration is needed.  For more info, call (510) 544-3187.

What I like best about Leona Canyon is that it feels like an oasis, and isn’t well-known like the nearby Chabot, Joaquin Miller, Sibley, Huckleberry or Redwood Regional Parks.  It’s a small park, but there are those who love it.

Foxes Get Comfortable Too

We’re used to seeing deer, raccoon, skunks and occasional turkeys around our homes.  In the past few weeks, people living in the hills between Oakland and Berkeley have spotted a fox or two lounging right in their backyards!

Normally, the foxes are spotted running in stealth mode. I have seen them scurrying along, particularly on open hillsides in the East Bay Regional Parks. This photographic proof is fascinating, since the fox looks like some domesticated cat or dog.

Wild Life in the North Hills serves as our active repository for sightings, especially in the northern reaches of Oakland.  All neighbors are encouraged to take snapshots of mammals, birds, insects, plants and more.  The recent finds are uploaded for the month, and then categorized accordingly.  We’re impressed by Kay Loughman, an expert birder who faithfully oversees and maintains this great resource.

Dreams Almost Fulfilled: Shepherd Canyon

As you know, Martin Luther King Day has become a day of service.  Why not come and volunteer at Shepherd Canyon Park, where dreams are almost fulfilled?  This place has come a long way, though a work crew’s needed tomorrow — just show up at Escher Gate, at 9am sharp.

Through dogged volunteerism, Shepherd Canyon has been transformed from a literal trash heap to a thing of beauty.  While the park is a respite for all visitors today, it used to be filled with cars, city-dumped debris and more. Here’s the damning, photographic proof from late 2001.

The Car Park: Let’s begin with this vintage vehicle, nestled below in the creek bed. There were other rusties in the park, and we can’t imagine the efforts taken to dump cars in this remote spot! It’s baffling they weren’t pulled out years before.

The Teenage Wasteland: Check out more “crime scene” evidence, where locals had their late-night parties. This teenage (sorry) wasteland is ridiculous, because all the drinking detritus could have been easily carried out.

The City Dump: Look at this debris deposited by the City of Oakland! Yes, this old concrete was something that (we believe) Public Works threw in the upper meadows, never envisioning the open space decades later. The place looked pretty depressing, right?

Thanks to Shepherd Canyon’s Homeowners Association’s (SCHA) website for recording the canyon history, including this dumping evidence and subsequent clean-up.  Since the SCHA’s initial clearing efforts, their Ecopullers continue to restore the area and trails.  If you live in a nearby canyon, it’s worth stopping by tomorrow — to check out the progress and work the land.