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.

Large turnout for Motorcycyle Hill ribbon cutting

Mayor Janet Abelson slices through the ribbon, officially inaugurating the Motorcycle Hill Stairs. Mollie Hazen stands alongside.

Several dozen people showed up for a brief ceremony at Motorcycle Hill last week to mark the completion of the Motorcycle Hill Stairs. These stairs make it much easier to use the wonderful, albeit steep trail.

Before the city installed them recently, hikers had to hop a low wall to access the trail, which Trail Trekkers built from scratch starting 5 years ago.

If you have not enjoyed this scenic trail, now is a good opportunity.

Cutting the ribbon was our mayor, Janet Abelson, who truly got into the spirit! County supervisor John Gioia, a friend to trails, spoke, as did Councilman Paul Fadelli.

Jenny Hammer, Trekkers’ vice president and the person who spearheaded the trail creation, discussed its history.

Glenn Wood, who designed the stairs pro bono along with the firm that employs him, SGPA Architecture, was heartily thanked, and attended with his family.

Glenn Wood, who designed the stairs, attended with his family. The stairs fit in quite well with the setting. Glenn is also a member of the city’s Design Review Board.

Also there was Gary Hill, who worked very hard on the trail as leader at the time of the El Cerrito High Mountain Bike Team. Many young people and their parents from that group helped build the trail.

We were glad to see Patrick Johnston, also there with his family, a National Park Service planner who designed a beautiful series of trail signs for the Hillside that will soon be installed, Later his signs also will be installed on the more urban trails throughout town.

City staffers who worked on the trail were also there to bask in its glory, including Ana Bernardes. The city’s Parks and Rec Commission approved spending regional park bond measure WW funds on the stairs.

Much thanks also went to Charlie Bowen, a leader of Berkeley Path Wanderers, which Trekkers regards properly as our inspiration. She helped us select a route and provided technical and spiritual assistance.

Mollie Hazen and Pam Austin, Trekker board members, helped put on this informal celebration, along with Jenny. Thanks!

Before we built this trail, this section of the Hillside Natural Area was essentially impassable. Now it is a major link in a wonderful series of lopping trails throughout the 100 acre park.

After the ceremony many of us repaired to McBear’s Social Club, which has a lively beer garden and is a wonderful asset to our city.

Hope to see you soon on Motorcycle Hill!

After the ceremony some attendees took to the trail.

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.

Our Evening Ramble was a great hike and it will happen again

Alina, in red, stands with hikers atop the ridge in Camp Herms as fog flows through. Photos by Dave Weinstein

Trail Trekkers new hike leader Alina Constantiniescu put 20 people through their paces last night with a long (4 miles), beautiful and at times foggy hike that took us through the Hillside Natural Area, up the charming Shevlin to Arlington Trail, and through the Boy Scouts’ Camp Herms.

We thank the Boy Scouts for their kind permission!

Next we saw the quirky and fun Musee des Bibelots Voies on Leneve Place overlooking Wildcat Canyon, took a quick swing through a bit of Kensington past some beautiful mid-century modern homes, and took a small trail alongside the Unitarian Universalist Church.

Enjoying the Musee des Bibelots Voies.

Alina then led us down a hidden set of public stairs in El Cerrito that at first appear to be nothing but a driveway. Then down the Great Western Power Trail along Moeser Way as night fell upon us.

Alina will lead another Hillside Ramble, “mostly through the Hillside Area and Motorcycle Hill,” she says, on September 12, starting from the Schmidt Lane trail head at 6:30 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Motorcycle Hill Steps Installed!

Until now, the bottom of the Motorcycle Hill Trail ended at a low wall that required a bit of a hop to get to level ground.

A major step – or rather, a series of steps – towards giving El Cerrito the usable trail system it deserves is finally happening. Crews have installed the steps at the bottom of Motorcycle Hill Trail.

We want to thank the El Cerrito Engineers, Ana Bernardes and Yvetteh Ortiz, and the Public Works Department for planning, overseeing, and expediting the construction of these inviting steps. We also are most appreciative to Joe’s Concrete for doing the installation. In addition, Trekkers thanks Glenn Wood, an El Cerrito resident and associate principal with the firm, SGPA Architecture and Planning, for providing the initial design, pro bono. Funds from Measure WW were used for this project; many thanks to the Park and Recreation Commission and the residents of El Cerrito for this community amenity.

Our vice president Jenny Hammer was the lead on building the trail. Trail Trekkers began work on the Motorcycle Hill Trail back in 2012 after identifying the site as public property and a good access to the northern Hillside Natural Area. We began with trail survey work overseen by Harry Silcocks of East Bay Trail Dogs, (another trail building group) and Charlie Bowen and others from Berkeley Path Wanderers. Their expertise and inspiration were invaluable. In addition, many volunteers participated in the trail building project, including Tom Gehling, David Lingren, Tim Aaronson, the El Cerrito High School Mountain Biking Team, and others too numerous to name. After we determined the route based on input from our experts, volunteers removed broom and poison oak, leveled the trail, and installed treads. Trail work is not complete; we still have more treads to install and some more grading to do.

The first Trekker hike on the trail was January 2013. There have been others, since, and there will be more in the future. The trail is used on a daily basis by runners, dog walkers, Madera Elementary School students, nature lovers, explorers. We encourage all to use the trail. We also send an invitation to all who are interested to join us for future work parties.

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,