This week we remember one of the lost heroes of conservation in El Cerrito and the trail and grove named for him. Not that there is a sign to mark them. Ken Smith was the city manage of El Cerrito in the 1950s and was responsible for many of the parks in El Cerrito. There isn’t much about him on-line, but he is mentioned in this article from El Cerrito Patch. But the trail and grove exist, and they make for a easy and short detour the next time you are in the Hillside Natural Area.
Most people are familiar with one memorial grove in El Cerrito’s Hillside Natural Area, at Schmidt Lane, but few seem to know about the other. The lack of signs maybe the main reason. But if you’ve ever used the King Court entrance, you probably have noticed the trail. The trail head at King Ct. is the south end of the Ridge Trail (#30), and its first leg takes you downhill in a northerly direction to a small, and as far as we know, unnamed area with a lawn. Passing this, most will head on west to the top of the quarry, but just to your left, south, is the beginning of the Ken Smith Trail.
Not much more than 500 feet long, the trail starts with a short descent but quickly levels off and heads into a stand of straight and tall Eucalyptus trees. This is the Ken Smith Grove. A little farther on is a wooden bench. And for most people, that should probably be it. Looking south, there is a good view of the hillside next to Moeser where the Sundar Shadi Christmas display is placed each December. But anything that looks like a trail beyond here should probably be avoided. Anything heading south soon peters out, leaving you with nothing more than a steep climb back up for your effort. There is something a little more trail-like heading west, but we do not recommend it. It is possible that the trail was better in the past. There are actually tread steps at the very bottom, but it is better to see them from the trail than runs through the PG&E land along Moeser, the Great Western Power Trail, #41 on our trail list. The hillside between there and the Ken Smith Grove is very steep, very slippery, and has more poison oak than trail. The south facing slope is even worse. It becomes almost a vertical drop into the creek bed below. Better to visit these areas from another direction. The more northern branch of the Great Western Power Trail runs along the bottom of this hillside, on its way from Navallier to Shevlin. A nice walk in and of itself, but subject for another week.