Category Archives: Hikes

Our Trees and Climate Hike Proved Intriguing

David Ackerly leads group of hikers

David Ackerly and Trekkers

July 2019: Trail Trekkers’ most recent hike, Trees and Climate, proved fascinating, with 20 people discussing the future of the Hillside Natural Area – and of the entire natural world – with tour leader David Ackerly.

Ackerly, who lives in El Cerrito, knows the topic well. He is the dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources and a scientist who has been studying climate change and its global and local effects for years.

Trekkers ponder trees during hikeAmong the topics he discussed was, what can and should scientists and members of the public do to ensure the health of our local forests as climate change makes it difficult or impossible for existing trees to flourish in their once comfortable neighborhood?

Watch for the next such hike, as we plan to do a similar version of this Trees and Climate hike in the fall.





List of trees of interest found above Schmidt entrance to Hillside Natural Area.

Successful Broom Pull will be followed by another — soon

It didn’t take long for Beth Molnar, a member of the EQC, to produce this pile of pulled broom.

Our most recent work party, the Madera Open Space broom pull, proved a great success despite its timing – just after the fiercest rains we’ve seen in a while, and with downpours and hail forecasted for that day.

Still, 11 people showed up on Saturday February 16 for this event, spearheaded by the city’s Environmental Quality Committee’s Green Teams and organized by Howdy Goudey. Trekkers co-sponsored.

Broom, a bully of an invasive plant that has in the past decades taken over acres and acres of the Hillside Natural Area, is threatening to reclaim the Madera-Julian Trail, which connects Madera Open Space to the Julian Steps and thus to Motorcycle Hill.

This is a crucial and historic trail in the Hillside Natural Area. It is – so far – the only direct link via trail between the southern and northern areas of the Hillside Area.

The Madera-Julian Trail is facing an invasion of fast-growing broom.

When Trekkers and the El Cerrito High Mountain Biking Team won the support of Trust for Public Land back in 2013 on plans to buy the Madera Open Space, Trust bought in because the purchase would link the two sections of the Hillside.

If Trust hadn’t helped us, the city would never have been able to acquire Madera Open Space and add it to the publicly owned Hillside Natural Area.

Hence, we’d better do what we can to keep this trail passable. (It is a trail that Trekkers created back circa 2012, 2013.)

Watch this space and keep an eye on your email in-box. Green Teams and Trekkers plan another work party at this spot soon.

In two hours on February 16, our crew – a mix of longtime volunteers and welcome newcomers – managed to remove stacks of broom – by the roots of course. Working up close to plants – freeing new live oaks that had been engulfed by broom – is a much more intimate way to enjoy the Hillside than just walking through it.

The views were great as clouds scudded by and the sun came out, and the creek was cascading wildly.

Jacob pulls broom along the Hillside trail

We were careful, of course, to watch out for poison oak, which is starting to leaf.

Then, just past noon, our anointed quitting time, the sky darkened but it didn’t rain. It hailed.

See you at our next broom pull.

Our Recent Geological Hike Is Well Worth Repeating

Gary Prost above recycling center (4) small

Geologist Gary Prost’s talk went from the planetary to the hyper local, as he discussed what can be learned from the exposed rock face above the recycling center, a former quarry.

Geologist Gary Prost’s talk went from the planetary to the hyper local, as he discussed what can be learned from the exposed rock face above the recycling center, a former quarry.

Geologist Gary Prost led more than 30 hikers on an informative and at times exciting Hillside Natural Area Geology Walk earlier this month. If you missed it be assured – we will have Gary lead this hike again.

The hike attracted adults and families, and even though Gary handed out a reading list as part of his walk, the event was far from academic in tone. Kids on the hike loved getting up close and personal with the rocks as Gary explained their composition and how they were created.

Watch our website and newsletter for more. We hope to put this hike on again in the fall or early winter.

In addition, Gary, a retired professional geologist, prepared a useful handout, undoubtedly the best, short guide to the geology of El Cerrito we have ever seen. You can find it here.

The three-hour hike began at the Schmidt Lane trailhead to the Hillside Natural Area, wended its way through Madera Open Space, visited the nearby EBMUD water tank, went past the Berkeley Country Club’s golf course, and headed down the Great Western Power Trail along Moeser Lane.

A young potential geologist gets up close and personal with the subject during our hike.

During its course we learned about plate tectonics and how the movement of these plates created the California – and the El Cerrito – we know today. We learned to differentiate blue schist from rhyolite, two of the most common rocks found on our hillsides.

One is formed by the movement of the tectonic plates through subduction. The other is volcanic. We learned also about other rocks, including greywacke, about the work of thrust faults in making and remaking our landscape, and about strike slip faults.

Just as we did in our recent It’s Our Fault Hike led by another geologist, David Schwartz, we observed the Hayward fault as it can be seen along the golf course. Gary also showed us a spring that bubbles out of the ground along Regency Court, another sign of seismic activity.

I for one will never look at the El Cerrito Hills the same way again.

The city’s Hillside Natural Area is a beautiful setting for any sort of hike.

It’s Our Fault Hike revealed hidden seismic activity

Jenny Hammer led a wonderful Trail Trekker hike, “It’s Our Fault,” this past Saturday, that explored the Hayward Fault as it makes its way through the El Cerrito Hills and East Richmond Heights.

This hiker is straddling a section of pavement on Olive Street in East Richmond Heights that has shifted due to the movement of the Hayward Fault.

Over fifty hikers attended this El Cerrito centennial hike and benefited from the expertise of Dr. David P. Schwartz, a Seismic Geologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, who has done much research on the fault and on earthquake and seismic issues. The hike was also useful in providing information about what we can do to prepare for the inevitable quake as the CERT Area 2 Coordinator Marlene Keller, was on hand to answer questions and distribute information about disaster/earthquake safety.

What was great about the hike was how it made the experience of  the Hayward Fault seem very real. You could actually see the fault, on the Berkeley Country Club (formerly Mira Vista) golf course, and crossing actual streets in East Richmond Heights.

You could see where sections of curb have been cracked and shifted (or offset) over the years by the gradual slippage of land along the fault. You could even straddle these sections, which many hikers did.

At one point, as we were talking about and looking at several homes that sit directly above the fault, the owner of one home nearby joined the discussion.

And then, in a special, unexpected treat of the sort that often occurs on Trekker hikes, we were warmly welcomed into and visited the beautiful Gyuto Foundation Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where we not only admired the Tibetan art and gardens — but were able to see how the reinforced concrete building has been pulled apart by the tectonic forces associated with our very own Hayward Fault.

Jenny had arranged the visit in advance, of course!

One bit of good news about this hike is, we plan to repeat it and will add more and different aspects. We’re not sure of the date for “It’s Our Fault: Redux” but you can keep apprised of this and our other upcoming hikes by signing on to our email list or by joining El Cerrito Trail Trekkers. Both can be done from our website,

Trail of the Week 36: Tassajara Park Trail (#4)

Northern trails

Northern trails

After a long gap, we return to the north of the city for the third and last of Tassajara Park’s associated trails, the aptly named Tassajara Park Trail. We’ve previously showcased the Tassajara to Barrett path, which descend from Barrett to Tassajara Avenue, across from the park, and the Barrett to Alva path, which runs along the western edge of the park. But the Tassajara Park Trail is unique in that it begins in, and passes through, the park itself.

Entrance behind the hoop

Entrance behind the hoop [TJ Gehling]

Canyon Trail Park runs in a southeasterly direction from its northern edge along Barrett Ave., to its southern edge at the corner of Tassajara and Alva. Tassajara Ave. makes up the whole of the eastern border as it follows a contour of the hills, rising gradually to meet Alva, which forms an elevated southwestern border. The park can be divided into three areas: a pair of tennis courts in the northwest, a baseball field in the southeast, and an open area in between featuring a play area, basketball courts, a picnic area and the clubhouse. An unnamed path along the south side of the tennis courts connects the Alva-Barrett trail to the play area, but the main entrance to the park is from Tassajara Ave. next to the clubhouse. Here starts a path that leads to the basketball courts and the official start of our trail for the week.

Storybook hikers on the path [TJ Gehling]

Storybook hikers on the path [TJ Gehling]

Although plants and trees are plentiful around the edges of the park, the only thing even a bit forest-like is a small stand of trees squeezed between the basketball courts, the baseball field, and a few house on Alva above. And here former generations of park users have worn their own path from the courts to the field. That no path was originally planned if obvious, since it is necessary to step up onto a low retaining wall. But as you scramble up the small hill over roots and rock you quickly come to a path that runs along the southwest side (and third base line) of the ball park. A fence and a hedge divide the path from the field, and a border of trees and shrubs covers the short slope up to Alva. This segment of the path ends  with a short climb up to the corner of Tassajara and Alva.

The baseball field from the path's southern entrance. [TJ Gehling]

The baseball field from the path’s southern entrance. [TJ Gehling]

The pictures accompanying this post were taken during Dave Weinstein’s Storybook Homes hike on July 19. Other pictures from that day are included in the post for the Francisco to Tulare Path. Tassajara Park is a popular waypoint on our northern hikes, not the least because of the presence of restrooms and a drinking fountain. But there was another reason to pass through on this recent hike. Last year, while drafting a list of possible future work sites for the Trekkers, the state of the Tassajara Park Trail by the basketball courts was brought to our attention. It was suggested that this might be an ideal spot for the placement of treads, since the current condition of the slope is a bit slippery. While the segment is quite short, there are obstacles in the form of outcropping rocks and tree roots to work around. It would probably be ideal to make an openning in the retaining wall as well. But perhaps next year we’ll be putting out a call for help to improve this trail.

But even if you don’t want to work, pay a vist to Tassajara Park if you get the chance. It is a little oasis in a vast sea of expensive houses, interesting though many of them are. If you are interested in the houses, a previous Storybook homes hike is chronicled here.

Trail of the Week 32: Francisco to Tulare Path (#2)

Looking west

Looking west [TJ Gehling]

When building in the hills, the rigid grid lines that characterize street layout in the flat lands are abandoned for the gentle curve of the topographic contour. This often makes for a more interesting walk, since you are forever rounding a corner to a new vista. But finding a minimal route between two points can become an exercise in complex geographic calculus. Take for instance the problem for a resident of Francisco Street on the northern edge of El Cerrito. In order to visit a neighbor on Mira Vista, little more than 150 ft west, you might have to walk twice that distance east, than south to Barrett before walking almost 500 feet west to Mira Vista. And there is still the walk north on Mira Vista to your destination. That 150 feet west has become 1400 feet and you’ve walked in every cardinal direction. Good for your heart, it not for your schedule. But wait, what is that between those two houses? That narrow gap? Why it is the minimizing function of our problem, know to us as this week’s trail, the Francisco to Tulare Path.

Up from Tulare [TJ Gehling]

Up from Tulare [TJ Gehling]

This is the second trail on our list, and fittingly, the second most northerly after La Honda Way. The city limits are just 300 feet to the north. Like many trails, the Francisco to Tulare Path can be seen as a continuation of a street, in this case Charles St. to the west. The last, mostly easterly, section of Francisco completes a fairly straight route from Sonoma St to Carquienez, a distance of just over a quarter mile. And anyone along the route can use it as an alternative to Barrett for reaching Tassajara Park, which is just across Barrett from Carquinez.

The stairway to Francisco [TJ Gehling]

The stairway to Francisco [TJ Gehling]

The route exists in two segments:  a inclined path from Tulare to Mira Vista, and a somewhat steeper stairway from Mira Vista to Francisco. The first begins between 2626 and 1628 Tulare, with a white picket fence on one side and a hedge on the other. It rises about 25 feet in elevation over its greater than 200 foot length. At Mira Vista there is an almost imperceptible dogleg to the left before you begin your ascent of the stairway between 2621 and 2625. The stairs rise about 30 feet over a length of 150 feet and exit on to Francisco between 2637 and 2641. Turning left will take you into Richmond and eventually to Hazel Ave. just above the entrance to Mira Vista Elementary School. Alternatively, turning right will take you quickly to Carquinez, and if you wish, on to Tasajara Park.

Storyland [TJ Gehling]

Storyland [TJ Gehling]

The pictures accompanying this post were taken on Dave Weinstein’s recent “Storybook Homes” hike. If you couldn’t make that hike, or the previous hike in 2012, the area is a wonderland of interesting architecture. Dave produced a guide for those who would like to explore this area on their own. One person who did make the recent hike was Trekker board member Mark Miner, and via the wonders of modern technology he live tweeted it as we went along. Some of his pictures are posted here. You can also follow the Trail Trekkers on Twitter here.

Trail of the Week 31: Snowdon Way (#14)

Looking towards Tam {TJ Gehling]

Snowdon Way is the last block of Snowdon Avenue as you head east towards the hills. Coming to Ganges, you could be forgiven for mistaking the way ahead of you for a private driveway. But, in fact, it is the northern most entrance to the Hillside Natural Area (HNA) and the beginning of a network of trails that can take you all the way across the HNA and eventually to Moeser Lane.


Spell check [TJ Gehling]

We should probably deal with a minor issue right away and get it over with. On the PDF version of our trail list the road and associated trails use the spelling Snowden, with an “e”. The correct spelling, based on street signs, is Snowdon, with an “o”. You can find both spellings on maps, sometimes on the same map. Our own map uses the Snowden spelling. Google Maps uses Snowdon, but Google Earth uses both!


The gate [TJ Gehling]

The description of this trail also says that it is pedestrian only. This isn’t strictly true. For the first 300 ft or so you can drive in, but then you come to a gate. And there is little room to park, much less turn around, so we recommend parking out on Ganges. Snowdon Way functions as a fire road for the area, so it is better if it isn’t blocked.

The former tank location [TJ Gehling]

So, why the gate? Why even, the road? The answer is water. This last block of Snowdon was the access to, and in fact, the location of, an East Bay MUD tank reservoir. Called Navellier Reservoir, it was replaced by the reservoir off Potrero just below the Madera Open Space. Once the tank was removed, EBMUD had no further use for the property and so it was added to the northern section of the HNA. In January the city agreed to protect the entire Hillside Natural Area “in perpetuity,” as a step in their application for a National Park Service Land and Water Conservation Grant to help pay for Madera. This proclamation was a first step in federally protecting the HNA, which would stop any future building in the area. When they did this, they explicitly excluded the former tank location, with the expectation that the area could be used in the future for a club house, picnic area or bike park.

Lower Snowden TrailAs we mentioned, Snowdon way is a gateway to the entire Hillside Natural Area. Right now the northern section has only two other “hike-ready” trails, Lower Snowdon (#15) and Motorcycle Hill (#17). Lower Snowdon begins just before the gate, and leads to the foot of the Motorcycle Hill Trail. Another trail, probably designed for bike use, will connect the former tank area to a point farther up Motorcycle Hill. The hope is that in the future this trail, and another, envisioned but not yet planned, will provide an alternate route for bikes up and down Motorcycle Hill.

Breadth of It hikers on Snowdon Way [TJ Gehling]

Breadth of It hikers on Snowdon Way [TJ Gehling]

Snowdon Way was one end of Jenny Hammer’s The Breadth of It hike held earlier today (July 20). The > 4 mile round trip took us from the PG&E land on the HNA’s southern border all the way to Snowdon and back. We covered diverse terrain and went up and down (twice) nearly 500 feet in elevation during the hike. Mark Minor live tweeted the hike and some of his pictures on Twitter are linked here.

High Tide at Point Isabel

Point Isabel group photograph, photographed

Point Isabel group photograph, photographed

On March 1 the Trail Trekkers, along with Citizens for East Shore Parks, led a walk around Point Isabel, El Cerrito’s little bit of coastline that isn’t actually in El Cerrito. About 20 people attended the event which was led by Patricia Jones of CESP and Tom Gehling of the Trekkers. Things got off to an informative start when Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia

CCCo Supervisor John Gioia. Photo by Dave Weinstein

CCCo Supervisor John Gioia. Photo by Dave Weinstein

addressed the group on the subject of wetlands and the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. This agency, for which Supervisor Gioia is part of the governing board, is “charged with raising and allocating resources for the restoration, enhancement, protection, and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitat in the San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline.” We would like to thank John for stopping by, even though he couldn’t stay for the whole walk.

Tom Kelley and Tom Gehling. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Tom Kelly and Tom Gehling. Photo by Dave Weinstein

We proceeded from the Isabel Street parking area east to the main course of the Bay Trail. There we made our first stop, in order to meet Tom and Jane Kelly who are leading a group of dedicated volunteers restoring natural vegetation along the edge of Hoffman Marsh. They meet on the 1st Saturday of each month and are always looking for new workers. Their events are listed on the TRAC (Trails for Richmond Action Committee) website calendar of events.

This was billed as a high tide walk and nature didn’t disappoint. If you look at the photo of the two Toms, you can’t help but notice that Hoffman Marsh looks a whole lot more like Hoffman Bay. Ordinarily you would expect to see marshland filled with pickleweed, cord grass and other salt tolerant vegetation, with deep muddy channels for branches of the creek that drains into Hoffman channel. But instead we saw open water from the Bay Trail to Highway 580. This wasn’t a King tide, but was very high just the same.
Madera Open Space

Moving on north and west, our next stop was at Baxter Creek. Many of you probably know Baxter Creek as it is at the Northern Gateway Park where the Ohlone Greenway meets San Pablo Ave.. but  down by the bay it is much bigger and wider, especially at high tide. The wetlands here are not contiguous with Hoffman Marsh and go by the name Stege Marsh, but for this hike they were underwater too. Two bridges cross the creek here, one as the beginning of a branch trail heading north towards Richmond’s Bayview overpass and the other on the Bay Trail itself. We stopped at the former, which in addition to its other charms offers beautiful views of the El Cerrito hills, and especially the Madera Open Space. Here Dave Weinstein, the President of the Trail Trekkers, gave a short pitch for The El Cerrito Open Space Campaign’s fundraising efforts. If you haven’t donated yet, please consider doing so soon.

Patricia Jones. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

Patricia Jones. Photo by Dave Weinstein.

Our final destination for that day was Meeker Slough Creek, which runs between the University of California Richmond Field Station and the Mission Bay neighborhood around the Richmond Marina. Here Patricia Jones of CESP filled us in on the current state of the proposed development of this area by the university and by the city of Richmond.  More information can be found on the CESP website.

These are just highlights from the walk. To really get to know the area you need to see it at different times of day and at different water levels. The El Cerrito Trail Trekkers hope to do more hikes here, and are planning to visit it again on a bike ride in April. Whether your interest is exercise, panoramic views, wildlife and nature, or some combination of it all, the Bay Trail in southern Richmond, part of McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, has it all, and right on our doorstep.
High tide at Meeker Slough

Swinging Albany Hill

Straight out the gateWhat do you get if you go on one of Roberta Maguire’s Albany Hill hikes? Well obviously a hike. And some history. And good conversation. And during the winter you’ll probably get a beautiful sunset. But there is more for those willing to take that extra effort. Who doesn’t like a nice swing?

Leticia swings while Kevin, Roberta, Pete, Maggie and Vivian look on.

Leticia swings while Kevin, Roberta, Pete, Maggie and Vivian look on.

Vivian enjoys her ride a bit more than Maggie

Vivian enjoys her ride a bit more than Maggie

Roberta holds these hikes on the first Sunday of each month. Watch our events page for time and meeting place.