Make Monarchs Feel At Home

On Martin Luther King Day, there’s a special opportunity to restore monarch butterfly habitat in Montclair. As part of a joint park clean-up, throughout Shepherd Canyon, volunteers can help restore the old dump site before the monarchs return to lay their eggs.

With sufficient milkweeds, monarch caterpillars are able to thrive.  So volunteers will help weed and carefully plant milkweeds, placing protective cardboard collars around them.  Through these efforts, we’ll continue attracting some awesome creatures to the neighborhood.

The Shepherd Canyon area has already made progress, as a registered monarch weigh station. We can only imagine each of the caterpillars lining up and getting ready to beat their competitors (but we digress).

On Monday at 9:00am, volunteers will join forces to work on the butterfly habitat, restore a wildflower meadow or work on drainage problems along the rail trail. Some 25 volunteers are needed for butterflies, 75 for the meadow and another 25 for trail work.

What a great way to give back on MLK Day!  All volunteers, including kids, are encouraged to meet at Escher Gate, 5881 Escher Drive (map).  Be prepared to work from 9:00am through 12:30pm.  While there are several project teams, you may want to secure your monarch spot by reaching Adrienne Bryant at or 510-339-0985.

This community event is organized and run by Friends of Montclair Railroad Trail, Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association and Service for Peace volunteers.

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.

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.

Shepherd Canyon Spring, While It Lasts

Like many Montclarions, we drive up and down Shepherd Canyon all the time.  It’s easy to forget all the preservation efforts, especially the push back on California Highway 77 decades ago.  With time to spare (or kill), we took a quick turn up Escher to appreciate the peaceful park.

These days, you can get your Shepherd Canyon spring while it lasts!  The park radiated lushness late yesterday.  Plenty of water flowed in the creek, the trails felt damp, and the greenery exploded everywhere.  This scene seemed perfect looking down into the park.

We walked down the trail and were amazed by the range of greens and yellows, especially from the blossoming trees and glistening grass underfoot.  It helped that the photo below was taken near that “bewitching hour,” when the colors seemed crisper.

In fact, the color palate just kept changing and looking glorious.   A couple and their baby were posing in the grass for a professional photographer.  Even a non-pro, like your faithful blogger, was able to capture this landscape painting.

We visited this little park when it was virtually empty.  There were a couple of young guys playing Tarzan across the creek, as well as a daughter who dallied in an inner-tube swing while her father cheered her.

This scene could have played fifty-odd years ago.

Local Public Works Almost Done

We’re racing to the finish, to complete several road and park construction projects before the official rainy season.  Oakland Public Works has been doing surprisingly well, finishing work at Shepherd Canyon Park, Montclair Park and Skyline Boulevard.

At Shepherd Canyon Park, the parking lot has been completed already.  This lot should improve safety for everyone driving by the park.  It’s built with water-permeable materials, since the canyon has flooding issues.  There will be a dedication sometime soon.

On the other hand, the Shepherd Canyon Road sink holes may re-appear this season.  Nearly $1 million had been approved to replace the ancient storm drainage pipes that cause the problem.  However the fixes have not been funded or scheduled yet, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed about future floods.

Down the hill, the improvements to Montclair Park paths will be done this month.  The remaining tasks include pouring concrete as well as installing fencing, drainage and handrails.  Montclair SIC plans several beautification efforts ahead, including daffodil plantings on November 15th.

Since late September, Skyline Boulevard has been shuttered to make permanent repairs caused by last winter’s storms.  We’ve been blocked from Berkeley, the parks and tunnel detour since then, waiting for Oakland Public Works to re-open the road by early December.

It turns out Public Works has made rapid progress on Skyline.  This weekend, local realtor Laurel Strand declared “whoopee!” in the Montclair Yahoo group, sharing that “Skyline Blvd at Snake to Grizzly Peak Road repair is finished!  We can now travel over the tunnel to Orinda.”

Even with the city’s budget crunch, we seem to be plowing through the projects scheduled before the winter storms.  That’s important because Oakland Public Works will undoubtedly be responding to the storms, floods and other winter travails soon.