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Hillside Fest 2019 Attracts Hundreds

“My life changed when I took classes in bird songs,” hike leader Tara McIntire told a hardy crew of bird watchers during her early morning bird hike at the 6th Annual Hillside Festival, and her affection for birds was infectious.

The thrill of spotting a bird or a group of birds brought people to Tara McIntire’s early morning bird walk.

Tara’s interest in birds is much more than academic She loves them. Waxwings she calls “gorgeous, gorgeous birds.”

“The cutest birds,” she says of another bird we spot, the Bewick’s wren, “and they have attitude.”

During the two-hour stroll, young and old participants, binoculars in hand, saw many birds and learned much – including about the ethics of birding. Did you know not to point at small birds you spot in nearby bushes? A Canny crow may be watching and can swoop in to make that small bird its next meal.

During the three-day festival there were many such revelations. Our hike leaders are experts in their fields. Eddie Dunbar led a large group, mostly made up of young families but with some serious entomologists too, on a jaunt that brought to the fore tiny critters that delighted and amazed.

Eddie Dunbar; Insect Hike 25. Members of the tour got up close and personal with some tiny critters. None were harmed.

Dave Gibson, the city’s fire marshal, led a tour that took in areas that were once filled with dangerously flammable brush but are now grasslands, where fires can be more easily tamed. He focused on how the city is reducing brush in the Hillside Nature Area to prevent tragedy. Neighbors who attended had plenty to say about the matter too.

The Dog Scouts, meanwhile entertained canine friends and their owners by running dogs through scent training.

Three geologists led an enthusiastic gathering uphill and down to reveal much about the formation of the ground beneath our feet and its ever-changing life.

We had not one but three geologists and two lively and informative geology hikes that ranged from the global to the local to the seismic in their reach.

Hikers took in the views as sunset neared during the Early Evening Ramble.

Not every event had a serious or scientific purpose. Alina Constantinescu led a wonderful “evening ramble” whose purpose was to stretch your legs and get to chat with fellow hikers.

Whatever walk you were on, the views were wonderful. This is the first geology hike.

We had 15 events in all, attracted about 350 people, made new friends, and enjoyed a social gathering with a view – thanks to donations from Trader Joe’s and the El Cerrito Natural Grocery.

At the end of the festival — it was the end of the Festival. Following this social gathering, Nicole Becker led a Meditation in Nature.

People attended from Oakland, San Francisco, Fremont, and beyond – though most attendees were from El Cerrito, Berkeley, Albany, and thereabouts. We were pleased that Mayor Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto came on our wildflower hike.

A young man enjoyed the thrill of discovery during the Young Persons’ Nature Hike, co-sponsored by Madera Elementary School.

Every member of the Trail Trekkers board worked diligently to make this event happen. Our co-sponsor, the El Cerrito Environmental Quality Committee, helped publicize, and provided funding and inspiration and some legwork too. The El Cerrito Historical Society co-sponsored our history hike. We thank city staff for their cooperation and assistance.

Janet Gawthrop knows native plants like few others, and her knowledge and love of the subject both informed and affected everyone present.

We also heartily thank all of our hike leaders and other event organizers, and all of the Trekker volunteers who attended each event.

Girl Scouts enjoyed the Scavenger Hunt, where young people enjoyed hunting for plants and animals throughout the hillside, and winning prizes for finding them.

One of the festival’s geology hike was aimed at families. This dad and daughter enjoyed the geology and the trek.

Please attend next year’s festival, which we project will again be the first weekend in May.


Volunteers Succeed in Saving a Trail and Cleaning Hillside of Broom

Only five volunteers showed up for the final broom pull of the season, but we cleared a large area of about 60 feet by four feet of the invasive plant.

May 1, 2019: The area around the Madera to Julian Trail in the Hillside Natural Area was becoming dangerously overgrown, as drenching winter rains caused every plant in Northern California to grow quickly – including invasive broom.

 This yellow flowered, woody plant with thankfully shallow roots was overwhelming a wonderful trail in the Madera Open Space section of the Hillside that Trail Trekkers had laid out and built some years ago.

 So Trekkers sprung into action, working with the Environmental Quality Committee’s Green Teams, to save the trail from becoming completely overgrown, and to remove other large patches of broom from areas nearby.

 Howdy Goudey of the EQC lead the effort, with many volunteers from both groups. It was fun, deeply satisfying work. On April 28 – the last broom pull for the season – we found the ground growing hard, making it more difficult to pull.

Neil Tsutsui at work

 Broom plants that in March and February (and during Earth Day in April) would come up easily, by hand, now required the use of weed wrenches that lever the plants from the earth.

 Broom is an oily plant that contributes to fire danger so removing it is valuable for that reason too.

We will return to the broom fight next year. Broom grows back, but it can be successfully removed. Many areas in the city that were once awash in the stuff – along Moeser lane, for example – are now free of it,  and thus provide better habitat for native plants and animals.

Exploring Public Private Open Spaces in San Francisco

An old post office designed by the great Willis Polk is now an art gallery and lunch spot as an adjunct to the tower at 55 Second Street

Most of our hikes are in nature or at least out of doors. But thanks to a law in the City requiring large downtown commercial developments to include open space that is open to the public, a fine hike can be enjoyed by walking from lobby to lobby and from rooftop terrace to “sun terrace.”

Dave Weinstein led such a “Popos” tour on February 15, in alliance with the Albany senior Center and Friends of Five Creeks.

We didn’t quite get to every rooftop or hidden garden we had aimed for, but it was fun nonetheless. It’s great how some of these mysterious gardens are hidden away. City law requires that office towers display signs announcing that these spaces exist. But you have to look carefully to spot them.

More than 30 people went on the hike and our hike leader only lost a grouping of them once. We did manage to reunite quickly.

Many are relaxing places well used by office workers for lunch. Many are filled with art, including work by important artists (Sol LeWitt, Ugo Rondinone).

New Popos (it stands for “privately owned public open spaces”) are opening every day thanks to bustling new development. We hope to do a variant of this hike later on.

505 Howard has strange sculptures and a living wall. Photos by Dave Weinstein

— Dave Weinstein

If you want to go on this hike yourself,  click on the link below for a PDF of our route

Popos Hike route Feb. 15, 2018

Work party clears debris from Terrace Cutoff Trail

Mark Miner seems almost engulfed in limbs at the start of the job.

It’s amazing how much work three dedicated volunteers can do in just over two hours. On Saturday morning Terrace Cutoff Trail was impassable. By early afternoon it was passable.

Mark Miner, who is Trail Trekkers’ trail building chief, Dave Weinstein, and a new volunteer with us, Mark Carraher, who is active with the Boy Scouts, removed many cubic yards of dead live oak limbs that had been blocking this trail and posing a fire hazard.

This was the first of Trail Trekkers new once-a-month trail work parties, which occur on the third Saturday of the month. Join us for future parties. They are satisfying!

Mark Carraher helped haul up what seemed for a while to be an endless grouping of flammable materials, making the area much safer.

Although Terrace Cutoff Trail is shown on our maps as an impassable trail (because a series of treads are needed to make it, well, truly safe and civilized), intrepid hikers can make it down this trail, which can be found between 8231 and 8239 Terrace Drive, and which connects to the well used Stockton-to-King Trail.

Within the year we hope to install treads to make this a fully functional part of our city’s wonderful network of trails and urban stairways.

— Dave Weinstein, Trail Trekkers president

Here’s what we moved uphill, to be picked up by crews from the city. Dave stands guard.


Here’s the trail after we cleared it — steep in parts and not advisable unless you are a good hiker. But passable. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Wonderful hike to Tepco Beach

One of our crew enjoys finding Tepco remains

Tim Aaaronson led a great walk on Sunday to Tepco Beach, with me serving as an assistant. Jenny hammer did much work planning this hike out.

The route, from the heart of El Cerrito’s commercial district, the EC Natural Grocery at San Pablo and Stockton Avenues, took us on bridges over both I-80 and I-580.

That alone was telling, showing how divorced we have become from the Bay, compared to the days when just past San Pablo Avenue one would have walked across grassland and marsh all the way to the beach.

Tepco, the Technical Porcelain Co., was in business from 1918 to 1968, all but the first few years at the site of what is today the DMV, just behind city hall.

Tim Aaronson lays down the word on Tepco

Lynn Maack, the world’s leading collector of Tepco ware, I believe, attended the hike and provided much information. He made it clear why collectors love Tepco ware today. It was sturdy, came in a variety of styles from cowboy to Art Deco to Tiki to purely functional.

On Tepco beach you can find lovely shards, sometimes even nearly entire pieces. There are mysteries there too. For example, how to explain the Tepco pieces encased in concrete slabs that are heavy with aggregate? There were fires at the plant. Could this have been the cause?

One member of our hike came with a bag of old Tepco shards that a child of his had reclaimed from the beach. He was returning them to the Bay. Tepco pieces, after all, in my mind at least, are valuable archeological remains.

Visit at low tide to enjoy Tepco Beach. It is at and near the end of the Point Isabel peninsula, just south of the sewer plant.

Tepco Beach offers both visual and audible treats. Waves washing over the shards produce tinkling sounds.

Terrace Cut-Off Trail Construction and Maintenance – Sat. February 17, 2018, 10:00 am – 12:30 pm

Come to the first of our regular Third Saturday Trail Trekker Work Parties
We will be out working improving the El Cerrito Hillside Natural Area every third Saturday of the month throughout the year starting on February 17.  Make it a recurring monthly event in your calendar and we will be there to greet you and welcome you to a project: Broom Bashes, Trail Construction,  yes, some debris clearing, but if we get the momentum we plan to, we can make a real difference.

Meet:  Terrace Drive at Contra Costa Drive at the top of the of the future Terrace Cut-Off Trail.

Leader:  Mark Miner


Tools will be provided, Bring water, maybe a snack. We will clear brush, weeds and debris, do some minor grading and perhaps install a couple treads

Terrace Cut off


20171007_120235 participants understand that certain risks are inherent in this activity, and engage in the activity at their own risk.

Tepco Beach Hike

Tepco Beach Hike
Sunday, February 11 at 3:00 pm 

Tepco Beach hike with Dave Weinstein and Tim Aaronson. Join us as we explore Tepco beach as well as the East Bay Regional Park’s adjacent Point Isabel Regional Shoreline.  Founded by Italian immigrant John Pagliero, TEPCO (Technical Porcelain  Co.) was the largest manufacturer in El Cerrito for decades and its tableware is collectible today. During its sixty or so years, the company dumped its imperfect pieces into the bay near Point Isabel, creating a strand of shards., creating “TEPCO Beach.”   When the tides are low, you can walk over shards of old El Cerrito pottery and enjoy their tinkling as waves jostle them around. Meet at the El Cerrito Natural Grocery, San Pablo Avenue at Sacramento. 2  hours


Enjoy sweeping views, a bit of history, and a low tide

Dave W@Tepco Beach-2

Trail Trekker President Dave Weinstein at TEPCO Beach in days gone by

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TEPCO Beach Shards

2018 Trail Trekkers Annual Meeting

A mountain lion cub was found near the Greek Theater in Berkeley the Tuesday after our meeting.

It’s a new year and the Trekkers are looking forward to building on our accomplishments in 2018.  Join us and help shape the future of open space in El Cerrito.

Our Annual Meeting on January 20th at the Community Center was an opportunity to get together to review what has been accomplished and look forward to 2018 goals. Thanks to xxx for covering our meeting  in the East Bay Times.  The meeting will also include elections of officers.  If you would like to join the Board of Directors come join us at 10 am, the second Saturdays of each month.

Pumas among us. Dr. Courtney Coon, a wildlife biologist with the Bay Area Puma Project will discuss these big cats that share our open spaces and sometimes our urban spaces. Dr. Coon is investigating aspects of puma heath and occupancy in the Bay Area, so she is in the know!  Pumas have been seen in Bay Area towns and were recently seen in the Berkeley hills. It was a fascinating and useful talk.

What is a Puma_

Dr. Coon told us a Puma has more names than any other animal.


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Dr. Coon is explaining that Pumas are the biggest of the small cats.  (Cheetahs are second biggest)  She showing how small cats have a small bone in their throat that allows them to purr,


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Dr. Coons is showing Yellowstone with and without Pumas.  Too many deer disturb the ecosystem and an adult Puma eats about one deer a week.  (nom nom nom)  We learned that we have good Puma habitat in the East Bay and El Cerrito in terms of food.


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The Puma Project has set up trail cams all around the Bay Area and showed us some amazing videos.  Puma kittens have spots, but adults are difficult to tell one from another unless they have had a life experience that made a mark.

A mountain lion cub was found near the Greek Theater in Berkeley the Tuesday after our meeting.

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Dr. Coons receiving an honorarium from our Communications Director, Mollie Hazen

Many Thanks to Rick Radin for covering our event in the East Bay Times.  

EL CERRITO –– Courtney Coon admits she has yet to see a mountain lion in the wild, even though she is an expert on the big cats with the Bay Area Puma Project.

Sightings are indeed rare and the reputation mountain lions have for being dangerous to humans is overblown, said Coon in a presentation at the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers annual meeting Jan. 20.

In fact, the animals have been responsible for a mere 18 verified attacks on humans in California since 1890.

“Pumas are lazy and pick off weak animals, and other animals scavenge for the food they leave behind,” Coon said. “They live on about 6,000 calories a day, which amounts to a deer a week.”

They go out of their way to avoid humans by becoming even more nocturnal in their travels when they are in areas inhabited by humans.

Trekker Board of Directors

We thank Jenny Hammer and Tom Gehling for their service on the Trail Trekkers board of directors. Jenny and Tom recently stepped off the board. Jenny was one of the founders of Trail Trekkers back in 2010, helping discover the forgotten urban paths in town, and spearheading efforts to successfully build several trails, including the Motorcycle Hill Trail.  We owe access to the part of the Hillside Natural Area north of Porrero Avenue to Jenny’s efforts.

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Tom, a native of El Cerrito with deep expertise about, and dedication to preserving, the natural environment, joined our group in 2012. He has worked on trails, planned trail building, helped devise our map, ran our website and much more.

Both Jenny and Tom will remain involved with Trekkers, leading hikes, taking part in work parties and more.

The new 2018 Board of Directors includes Dave Weinstein – President, Pam Austin – Vice President and Treasurer, Mollie Hazen – Communications Director and Mark Miner – Secretary & Webmaster

Mountain lion cub spotted near the Greek Theatre in BerkeleyMountain lion cub spotted near the Greek Theatre in BerkeleyA UC Berkeley employee spotted a mountain lion cub on Tuesday evening near the Greek Theatre, east of the main Cal campus.A UC Berkeley employee spotted a mountain lion cub on Tuesday evening near the Greek Theatre, east of the main Cal campus.A UC Berkeley employee spotted a mountain lion cub on Tuesday evening near the Greek Theatre, east of the main Cal campus.A UC Berkeley employee spotted a mountain lion cub on Tuesday evening near the Greek Theatre, east of the main Cal campus.A UC Berkeley employee spotted a mountain lion cub on Tuesday evening near the Greek Theatre, east of the main Cal campus.A UC Berkeley employee spotted a mountain lion cub on Tuesday evening near the Greek Theatre, east of the main Cal campus.

Holiday Lights Hike Proves Illuminating

Alina Constantinescu led a hike filled with views and holiday spirit. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Alina Constantinescu led a marvelous Trail Trekkers hike this past Sunday, taking 16 people up and through the Hillside Natural Area to take in views, the sunset, and the Sundar Shadi display along Moeser Lane.

Sundar’s display, a holiday tradition since 1949, can be seen until December 26. Don’t miss it. There is also a smaller display of his holiday figures in the window of Pastime Hardware.

Thanks to the Sundar Shadi Committee for putting this display on!

— Dave Weinstein

Alina leads the way, always with a smile.

Views from the Hillside Natural Area are one good reason to enjoy life in El Cerrito.

The late Sundar Shadi displayed his holiday scene for decades alongside his home on Arlington.

Tour reveals Albany Bulb as an artistic wonderland

Susan Moffat starts out her walk at “The Cove,” an artwork that serves as a popular gathering spot. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Susan Moffat is not trying to preserve the art that has filled the Albany Bulb for many years. She is trying to preserve something more important – the spirit that put the art there.

On Sunday, October 22, Susan led a Trail Trekker hike through the Bulb, which is owned by the City of Albany but is slated to be incorporated into the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.

The hike was revelatory, even to those hikers who thought they knew the Bulb well. It was built as a landfill for construction debris, gradually filling up from 1963 to 1983. For years Moffat, who teaches city planning at UC Berkeley, has been studying the  “history of this artificial piece of land.”

The 31-acre Bulb has been a popular spot for dog walkers, nature lovers, beach goers, and many others for years, and for decades was home to a thriving community of squatters until they were removed three years ago.

Since then the park has been much changed, with much brush removed along with piles of dirt – and some art. But much art remains and, in the tradition of Albany Bulb art, it remains in constant flux.

The goal of Susan’s group, Love the Bulb, which was founded a year ago and is a nonprofit, is to “make sure the creative spirit of the bulb continues,” she told the 30 people on the walk. “That’s what the bulb is about. It’s a very special place, kind of an adult adventure playground, where unlike most parks, you’re allowed to play around and alter things in ways that are usually not allowed (in parks).”

Love the Bulb has been putting on creative public events at the Bulb – people creating sculpture to musical accompaniment, educational talks and walks, native plantings. Upcoming events include “a fun strolling concert” on November 5 featuring the choir from Albany High, a kind of pilot project into using the Bulb for future performances.

A recent painting suggests the Mission Style made popular in San Francisco.

Love the Bulb advocates for the use of the site as a living arts space. Advocacy seems to be working. Several planning documents over the past decade and a half have called for removing all art from the Bulb. Susan says the latest plan cites the art as a valuable amenity.

Love the Bulb imagines that one days artists in residence can get funding to work at the Bulb. “That’s kind of ironic,” Susan said. “What’s wonderful about the place to now has been that it’s been un-curated.  It’s been wild. Everything has been anonymous. It’s been people doing their own thing, which I love and I would love to have continue as well.”

In a lively article, the Battle of the Bulb, Susan described the dynamics of art making that occurred there:

“Artists and passersby added to the altered sculptures …Visitors bestowed angel wings, shoes, jewelry and whiskey flasks on the driftwood sculptures of human figures, and added beads and ribbons to the kinetic sculptures. Change was expected. The art was more performance than object, more personal than material.”

Susan wants the Bulb of the future to remember and not erase everything about the Bulb of the past – when it was home to dozens of encampments, with people living in tents and hand-built houses, often attached to trees, with community gathering spots including two labyrinths, a functioning library (but without library cards), even a castle.

She got to know members of the squatting community well, saw how they lived and handled disputes, and says they were not so different than people who live in fine homes in the hills.

“Their disputes among each other, among neighbors, the way that they helped each other and took care of each other and fought with each other, it’s exactly the same conversations we have in our neighborhoods east of the freeway. Some people build a house that is too big, that is not in keeping with the neighborhood, that is blocking the view. Those conversations happen out here.”

With her students, Susan distributed cameras to Bulb residents so they could document their lives there, as part of an oral history mapping project.

She noted to the walkers how many memorials to people who have lost their lives in many varied places have been created at the Bulb. “People come here to remember and to memorialize things,” she said. “I feel like this place has a lot of memories in it.”

Susan told stories of the various artists who have worked at the Bulb, including Osha Neumann, the public interest lawyer and co-creator with Jason DeAntonis of an untitled sculpture that has morphed over the years but remains as the best known and best loved work there.

Osha Neumann and Jason DeAntonis are the creators of the most iconic sculpture on the Bulb, one that has undergone several rebuilds over the years but retains its power.

She talked about Sniff, a group of four talented painters whose strange scenes delighted some and unnerved others. She spoke of Jimbow the Hobow, the Bulb’s poet laureate.

She also discussed several other parks across the globe that allow for creative people, and people who want to be creative, to mess around with material and create something that is beautiful – or not.

“I understand why the (East Bay Regional) park district sees that as a challenge,” Susan said. “But we as a community can figure it out. Because people have been figuring it out on their own for a long time out here. If we could allow that to flourish and that community-based ethos to continue, I think it would work.”

Trail Trekker Tom Gehling visits the Labyrinth, which Moffat compared to a Greek agora and a Viking meeting place.