Archive for Neighborhoods: Westbrae & Northbrae

Hidden Gems of Berkeley Walk and Bike Ride This Sat., May 10!

The Hidden Gems of Berkeley Walk and Bike ride is this Saturday, May 10. Click on the image above for details. If you cannot view the image for some reason, following is a description of the event. Hope to see you there!

Hidden Gems of Berkeley. Two Interpretive Tours – by Bike and by foot – of West Berkeley’s Vernacular Treasures and Grassroots Greening Efforts

Saturday May 10, 2008 – 10 am to 2:00 pm (bike); 10 am to 12:30 (walk)

Join us for the 6th annual tour of Berkeley’s eclectic fabric of gardens, paths, strange and familiar cultural and natural features…This year we’ll explore the many eclectic hidden gems of West Berkeley and the Westbrae. Join John Steere, Georgia Silvera, Susan Schwartz, John Coveney and guest historians/guides in this 4 mile ride through curiously historic and creative features of the flatlands. Bring a lunch, water, and your curiosity!

The bike tour begins at a hidden gem – San Pablo Park at its southwest corner (by Russell and Mabel) and will end at Codornices Creek’s restoration (day-lighting) at 9th Street. The walk tour begins at the Ohlone Greenway’s bridge over Codornices Creek just north of Gilman and opposite 1200 Masonic. Both events will meet for lunch in Strawberry Creek Park.

For more information, see attached; or call 510 848 9358 (walk), or 849-1969 (ride). Enroute you can purchase the Hidden Gems Map ($5) which depicts scores of these “gems,” along with bike routes, community gardens, creeks, parks and the historic transit system.

This tour is sponsored by Berkeley Partners for Parks (

And is co-sponsored by the Bicycle Friendly Berkeley Coalition (,

as a part of Berkeley Bike Month, by Livable Berkeley: (,

and by Whole Foods Market

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Path Wanderers Walk, Bay and Ridge Trails

A number of readers are interested in gardens, so I thought I’d let you know that I will be leading a “fall harvest” walk for the Berkeley Path Wanderers on Saturday, October 20. The walk (which is free and open to the public) starts at 10 a.m. at the North Berkeley BART station, and will visit school and community gardens in the Northbrae and Westbrae neighborhoods to see what is ready for harvest and what is being planted for the fall and winter seasons. The walk may last 3 hours, but it is completely flat and there will be places for people to break off and return to the start. For those interested in fruit trees, we will be on the lookout along the way for trees that have fall fruit, such as citrus and persimmons.

I’m also excited to announce that the Path Wanderers asked me to be on their board for the next term starting in 2008. As you know, I have been using the Path Wanderers map to track my progress of walking all of the streets and paths in Berkeley. A new edition of the map was just released, which you can get at local bookstores or order by mail. Unlike many maps, this one has been extremely durable; despite many, many foldings and unfoldings throughout the course of my walk, its has not ripped. I also have enjoyed using the map because it is clear and easy to read, especially the markings for the stairways and paths. In addition to the map, the Path Wanderers repairs and maintains paths and stairways and offers monthly walks on Wednesdays and Saturdays in Berkeley and in other East Bay locations. Membership is $5 per year, and the group accepts monetary donations and tools.

The Path Wanders annual meeting is next Thursday evening at the Hillside Club, and is also free and open to the public. The featured event at the meeting will discuss two trails that will eventually circle the Bay Area — the Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail. The Bay Trail, which I mentioned in a post awhile back, runs close to the Bay’s shoreline and (when completed) will form a 400-mile network of paths and trails for walking, biking, and other recreational activities. The Bay Trail is extremely varied, as it passes through both natural areas and industrial and urban settings. The Bay Area Ridge Trail, by contrast, circles the Bay along the ridgeline and will be 500 miles long when completed. It passes through many parks and open space areas, and is used by hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers. The Berkeley section is complete, and runs through Tilden Park. The completion of both of these trails will be a challege because of the multiple agencies and owners that have to be negotiated with to open up the trails. I would like to think that in my lifetime I will get a chance to walk one of these trails in its entirety, but it will likely be some time before that happens. In the meantime, though, there is plenty to explore on the large sections of the trails that are open!

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Edible Schoolyard

I usually try to vary the crosstown streets I use to get to different areas of town where I walk, but one I often take in North Berkeley is Rose Street. It’s a quieter and shadier street than Cedar, but mainly I like to have the opportunity to stop in at the Edible Schoolyard, the well-known school garden and cooking program started by Alice Waters and located at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. I was pleased to learn upon moving to Berkeley that the garden is open to the public on the weekend and during non-school hours. On an acre of land next to the school buildings are beds of vegetables and herbs, fruit trees and vines, a greenhouse, an outdoor oven, chickens, a building that houses the kitchen area, and areas to sit and enjoy the gardens. I like to wander through the gardens to see how they look at different times of the year. We are lucky here, with our mild climate, to be able to grow food year-round. Even in the winter, there are several crops growing in the garden. Most of the plants have labels (made by the students), and it’s a great educational experience for adults as well as children.

Much has been written already about the Edible Schoolyard, so rather than recount its history, here are a few sources for further reading: PBS segment, Washington Post article, Center for Ecoliteracy. The new biography of Alice Waters, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, also has background on the Edible Schoolyard.

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Vegetables on the Roof

Along the Ohlone Greenway, which I talked about in my previous post, one of my favorite spots to stop is the EcoHouse at Peralta and Hopkins streets (right next to the Karl Linn Community Garden). The Ecohouse is a demonstration home and gardens for a variety of green building and gardening techniques. There is always something to see there — vegetables and fruit growing in the permaculture garden, the ducks that eat bugs and swim around in a bathtub, the shed made of natural building materials. Recently, a greywater system was installed, the first permitted residential system in Berkeley.

One of my favorite features of the EcoHouse, though, is the “living roof” on top of the garden shed. A few months ago, the roof was planted with vegetable seedlings that now appear to be providing a nice harvest of greens. The idea of “green roofs” or “living roofs” has been around for sometime, but it seems to be growing in popularity. I have seen new books out on the subject and various articles and academic papers as well. Green roofs vary, but they generally constitute plantings on some sort of structure, such as a shed, parking garage roof, or office building. They use light-weight planting mediums (so that the roof doesn’t collapse) and some sort of planting. I have seem examples of green roofs with low plantings such as sedums, and with native grasses, but not with vegetables, so this was a pleasant surprise. There was a series of workshops at the EcoHouse last fall, including one where the green roof was installed. I imagine there will be future classes there — the Ecology Center calendar is the best place to find out about such events.

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Santa Fe Right-of-Way & Ohlone Greenway

Last fall I wrote about the multi-use pathway that opened along a section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way. Over the past few months I have used the path quite often, and am finding that it has slowly been discovered by other walkers and cyclists. Where this paved section ends at Delaware Street, path users must take the street for a few blocks to connect to the Ohlone Greenway along the BART tracks. Recently a fence in the connecting section of the trail was opened on a trial basis, so I decided to check it out. Actually, I had previously walked both of these undeveloped trails up to the fence on either side, so it was a nice feeling to not have to backtrack along my route this time! It was a very pleasant and quiet walk between houses and through the grassy field (which I imagine wouldn’t be so grassy if it was paved like the other section).

After walking the Santa Fe section, I popped onto the Ohlone Greenway and walked north a bit through Berkeley to the Albany border. The trail continues through Albany, past the BART stations in El Cerrito to Richmond. There are several rail-trails and other multi-use trails in the Bay Area, most of which I have walked or cycled at some point. I am a big fan of trails like this that can be used for transportation and recreation, especially here in the population-dense Bay Area. The Ohlone Greenway is used quite a bit, but does not seem to be as wildly popular as some other trails I have visited. Some other trails can get so busy to the point of being unpleasant. If you have never been to a path like this, imagine a trail filled with lots of walkers, runners, cyclists, wheelchairs, strollers and baby joggers, people with headphones, people walking three or four abreast and talking, inline skaters, etc. — it gets to be pretty dangerous. This has not been my experience with the Ohlone Greenway; commute times and weekend afternoons are moderately busy on the trail, but it has never been over-run by people. Also, there are separate cycling and walking paths in most sections, and often an additional informal trail through dirt/grass on the side — in other words, plenty of space to avoid most collisions.

So what makes certain trails more popular than others for recreation use? Part of this is probably the setting. The most popular multi-use trails I have visited are in some natural setting — either through parks or along the water (Bay, reservoir, etc.) — as opposed to an urban area. It is probably an appealing combination for many people to have a flat, paved path that is easy to navigate with a bike/wheelchair/stroller, and get to experience nature at the same time. Another factor may be how much a trail is separated from traffic. Some trails avoid street crossings in some way, such as by an overpass or underpass. The Ohlone Greenway has many street crossings, some of which do not have traffic stop signs or lights. This isn’t too much of an issue for walking, but on a bike it can be a bit frustrating to have to stop so often, and dangerous in places. For fans of urban walks, though, the Greenway offers diverse sights, particularly in the Berkeley section: metal sculpture, murals, historical displays, exercise equipment, creeks, community gardens, benches, etc. Although I see plenty of people jogging along the Greenway, it is as much a place for strollers enjoying the sights along the way. This is not something you see much of on heavily used recreation trails.

So the section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way is open for a six-month trial period. Why a trial period? My walk in the daytime on the Santa Fe and Ohlone pathways was a pleasant one — spring flowers blooming, birds chirping, dogs being walked, cyclists on the way home from work or school — but this walk was during the day. Nighttime is a different story. While a few incidents of crime have occurred on multi-use paths in the Bay Area during daylight hours, the activity increases at night when it is dark and there are fewer people out and more secluded areas. There is also the concern that a fair amount of gang activity and drug dealing happens by bicycle, and creating an easy route between Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland opens up all of the cities to more crime. I am not an expert in city planning, but it does seem that one of the better solutions to minimizing this problem on the paths is to keep them well-lit. The section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way that was completed last fall has many lights, and people on the trail are visible to passing cars and walkers. There is no dense shrubbery in this trail section, and there is an emergency call box at University Avenue. Some other trails are closed at night, but this isn’t very possible with the number of entrance points to the trails in Berkeley.

If you want to check out the trial section of the Santa Fe Right-of-Way, you might want to start at University Ave. (just across the street from the Montessori school), walk the section that was paved last fall, cross Delaware St., and continue along the dirt pathway and through the now opened gate to connect with the Ohlone Greenway.

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As I have mentioned in previous posts, most of my walks start from my home. Now that I am pretty far into my walk of Berkeley’s streets, that means I walk some streets multiple times. I have found that I don’t mind retracing parts of previous routes; I now have things that I want to revisit to see changes or progress. Over the summer for instance, I walked by the Berkeley Amtrak station and found paint color tests across the street from the station. When I walked by again a few weeks ago, a mural was in progress in the same spot. Later this year, I will walk by again and hopefully see a completed project.

Unfortunately, not every follow-up visit to a location in progress is positive. You may remember my mention of the playground reconstruction at Cedar-Rose Park. It has taken months to rebuild this playground, and it looks as if it may be just about finished. When I walked by this morning, though, the brand new concrete play structures already had graffiti scrawled on them. Usually seeing graffiti is not a surprise. Graffiti, mostly gang-related (though what was at this playground appeared to be anarchist graffiti), can be found all over town and throughout the urban areas of the Bay Area. But it was just sort of sad to see it on a newly re-constructed public playground for children. I didn’t have the heart to take a photo of it.

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Community Gardens Along the BART Tracks

A walk past a community garden in the Bay Area is pleasant at any time of the year. Even in the middle of winter, the weather is mild enough for greens and root vegetables to survive and grow a bit. But fall is an especially fun time to see what is happening in the gardens. Pumpkins are still on the vine, tomatoes and peppers are making a final push, and some of the other vegetables are starting to die down to the ground. There are several community gardens in Berkeley, many of which are part of the Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative. The gardens are open to the public for several hours each week, and most welcome volunteers at garden workdays.

The once barren piece of land on the BART right-of-way at Hopkins and Peralta streets is now the site of a trio of community gardens — Peralta, Northside, and Karl Linn. Thanks to landscape architect and community activist Karl Linn (who passed away in 2005) and a host of volunteers, this land is now filled with vegetable plots, herbs, fruit trees, and native plants.

A 10th anniversary party was recently held at the Peralta Community Garden, which — in addition to garden plots and an herb and native plant circle — showcases a variety of sculpture, paintings, metalwork, and other pieces by local artists. The documentary film A Lot in Common tells the story of the garden. Connecting to Peralta is the Northside Garden, which features a beautiful straw bale toolshed. Across the street is the Karl Linn Garden and the EcoHouse, with a permaculture demonstration garden. And outside the gardens, California Habitats Indigenous Activists (CHIA) has been restoring a section of the Ohlone Greenway with local native plants.

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