Best of the Bay can be even better, by Fred Booker

This year in its "Best of the Bay" series, the East Bay Express named the Stonewall-Panoramic Ridge Trail in Claremont Canyon the Best Hike in the Sun. Similar honors were conferred in previous years, citing the trail’s spectacular vistas and easy access from the urban core. A car is not necessary to get there, a bus or bike, or even walking, will do.

As wonderful and unique as the Ridge Trail is, it is not without some challenges. As the winner of Best Hike of the Bay in 2001, the Express quipped that the Ridge Trail will “help you get ready for your trek to Nepal...” a hint that this is not a walk for the casual hiker. While the trailhead is easy to reach, the trail itself is steep, fully exposed to the sun, and features loose, gravely soil, making good footwear a must. Things could be greatly improved if the Park District would add some grading and switchbacks, to bring the trail more in line with official statewide standards for parks and preserves.

Several of us on the Conservancy board are now working with the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) and other landowners in the canyon on issues related to trails—not only regarding the Ridge Trail on Claremont Canyon’s north side, but trails elsewhere throughout the canyon. We believe that Claremont Canyon’s Best of the Bay experience can be made even better, safer and more inviting.

In addition to the Ridge Trail on the north side of the canyon, there are several interesting trails on the canyon’s south slope. Most are narrow, north-facing trails that tend to remain cool and shady. Many of us who like to hike enjoy trekking the two miles up this side of the canyon all the way to the top. There, near Grizzly Peak Boulevard, hikers can choose to use the Bay Area Ridge Trail to connect to a whole network of back-country trails in Tilden Regional Park, East Bay Municipal Utility District’s De La Veaga trail to Orinda is nearby, and there are some very interesting and enjoyable trails in Huckleberry Botanical Regional Preserve, Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, and Redwood Regional Park.

Unfortunately, there is no safe and easy way for pedestrians to reach the top of Claremont Canyon from its southern side and connect with the many miles of back-country trails that now exist along the crest of the Oakland-Berkeley hills.

To see this for yourself, find Garber Park just behind the Claremont Hotel and look for the half-mile loop that has recently been cleared. (You may need a local street map to find the park.) Exiting Garber Park and traveling up-canyon requires you to walk along the shoulder of Claremont Avenue, taking your life in your hands as you travel approximately one mile up to the Willow and Summit House trailheads at Signpost 29 on University of California land. These trails go all the way up to Grizzly Peak Boulevard at the top of the canyon.

Of course, there is always the option of walking up Alvarado Road and other residential streets to reach Marlborough Terrace and Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Many older hikers prefer this route. Traffic moves a bit slower but there are no sidewalks and you are still stuck sharing the limited road space with cars, bicyclists and skateboarders. This route has worked for me so far, but as more of the fire lots get built out I expect to see an increase in fast moving traffic, making the journey dangerous at times. So, the need is there for new trails to link the urban core to our beautiful hill area open space.

With all this in mind, the Conservancy is in preliminary discussions with UC and the East Bay Regional Park District about possible trail extensions and changes to existing trails for better access up both sides of Claremont Canyon. In talks with the Park District last month, Trail Manager Jim Townsend concurred that putting in switchbacks on the Ridge Trail would improve matters on the north slope. Extensions or additions in other places could parking, and disturbance to areas set aside for the Alameda whipsnake. When Jim Rutledge, the Claremont Canyon Park Supervisor, was asked about extending the Norfolk Trail in Gwin Canyon to the intersection of Alvarado Road and Claremont Avenue—while also adding a connector trail to the Summit House and Willow trails—the problem of parking, or lack thereof, was raised. The Park District folks are quite right, of course, when they remind us that the narrow streets in the hills were not constructed to serve as parking lots for urban hikers. There is little enough space for residents let alone additional visitors. But lack of parking should not keep us from building new trails or extending old ones. Many young adults who call the East Bay home do not own a car. They prefer mass transit or bicycles as the favored means of transportation. Knowing this, shouldn’t we be planning our parks with non-drivers in mind?

With trails in mind, Joe Engbeck and I are working with Eureka Cartography in Berkeley to update the Con- servancy’s map of Claremont Canyon, both for our web site and for trailside displays to be strategically placed in the Canyon. The plan is for the new trailside exhibit panels (featuring a customized map of the canyon and its trails) to be placed on UC land at Signpost 29, Signpost 27 and at Four Corners. A fourth panel may be placed at an entry point near the Clark Kerr campus on Park Dis- trict land. The map is being updated to include the trails in Garber Park and the Willow Trail, which starts at Signpost 29. The urban staircases and pathways behind the Claremont Hotel that the Garber Park Stewards have been cleaning up and otherwise resurrecting in recent months will encourage visitors and residents to explore more of our beautiful canyon. The new trail map is expected to be on the Conservancy’s website starting in December. Take a look and let us know what you think of it.

Public access to the great out-of-doors without the aid of a private automobile is a concept the Conservancy embraces. Goals we have set for ourselves include improving existing trails in the canyon and making connections between the north and south slope trails.