Golden Gate Park

Oak Woodlands Getting New Trail

$2.4 Million Project Aims to Make Park More Accessible

By Thomas K. Pendergast

In the northeast corner of Golden Gate Park there are about three miles of trails winding through the trees and shrubs on almost 23 acres of land, collectively known as the Oak Woodlands trails.

When Robert Bakewell and others in the group Friends of the Oak Woodlands first started paying special attention to this area in the ’90s, he described it as neglected, overgrown with ivy and blackberry plants and hiding many small homeless encampments, which were tucked away in little clearings behind thick foliage.

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 Construction workers building a new Oak Woodlands trail in the
northeast section of Golden Gate Park. Photos: Thomas K. Pendergast.

Most of the native Coast Live Oak trees were buried under all that and struggled to compete with invasive plants.

“All of this was overgrown with 10-to-15-foot-tall invasive shrubbery and weeds,” Bakewell said, pointing to an area a short walk from the Sixth Avenue entrance to the park at Fulton Street.

“So, they started stripping the ivy off the trees and restoring it to what it looked like, most likely, back in the 1800s when the park was first envisioned.

“The trees were being stunted and killed off by the ivy, by the undergrowth, by the camping, cutting and burning,” he said. “It was inaccessible to the public because of the public safety issues. There was no access. There was no trail. That’s why we started.”

The group agreed something needed be done about the state of the woodlands, so they came up with a shared vision.

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 Robert Bakewell is working with Friends of the Oak Woodlands to create a trail and
more in Golden Gate Park.

“Let’s open up this part of the park that was intended by (John) McLaren and (William Hammond) Hall to be a natural experience in the park,” Bakewell said.

Starting this past June, work began to complete that vision with widened and newly paved trails, the removal of invasive plants and the addition of native trees. Under the direction of the SF Recreation and Park Department, almost $2.4 million has been raised for the project, which will include an area that adheres to standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The department says a little more than $2.1 million of that money came from the 2012 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond. Another $202,500 came from a state Habitat Conservation Fund grant, plus a further $91,094 was donated by Coca Cola.

According to the department’s website, the Golden Gate Park Oak Woodlands Trail Improve ment Project will create one continuous nature trail with way-finding and interpretive signs, plus a designated multi-use trail that allows for off road bicycle access.

The project will repair existing trails, provide erosion control measures and restore native plants. Invasive plants that are a threat to habitat will be removed and replaced with plants that have “high habitat value” and are aesthetically pleasing, according to the department.

The trail alignment will connect points of interest along the route, including an overlook near Stanyan and Hayes streets, the horseshoe pits, the hillside near the green waste transfer area and the overlooks at Arguello Boulevard and Coon Hollow.

“The proposed trail restoration will improve visual quality, access, safety and enhance the trail experience in Oak Woodlands Park while retaining the rustic quality of the trail,” the department said.

Yerba Buena Engineering & Construction, Inc. has already started putting in the new trails and work is expected to continue until early 2019.

Restoration and construction work will occur in stages throughout the Oak Woodlands and individual trail segments will be closed during work. However, the overall trail network will remain mostly open and will continue to accommodate visitor use.

During the project, 27 trees deemed hazardous by an outside expert will be removed, along with another three that the department has identified because of construction.

The project includes new habitat restoration plantings in four different locations, with a total of 120 new Coast Live Oak trees and a wide variety of drought-tolerant shrubs.

Bakewell and his friends have come a long way during the two decades that they have been pushing for the changes. Many of the trails already there were carved out by the volunteers he worked with over the intervening years.

“We knew that there was going to be a bond measure at some point to try to put an official trail through here but we had to have something to access this area and to get people to come in here and suppress the transients, to make them know that they’re not the only ones that own this place,” Bakewell said. “That’s the point, one of the points, is to get the public access to this area.”

According to the department, the construction contract is just under $1.5 million and also includes the addition of wood-framed natural surface box steps, stabilization of trail surfaces, the decommissioning and realignment of selected trails and patching up some of the asphalt paths.

The ADA accessible area will run along the north side of Conservatory Drive East, starting where it meets the intersection with Arguello Boulevard, and on up to the “green dump” presently located there, Bakewell said. It will be flatter than the other parts of the trail, have two entrances and a “corridor” of oak trees. The green dump will remain but have a smaller footprint.

The horseshoe pits were a Depression-era WPA funded project. Bakewell said volunteers will clean it up and give it a gated entrance.

“It’s been a neglected area for decades with no investment in infrastructure,” he said.

The bathroom there that was abandoned will be fixed up, he said, but the group is still looking for donations to finish fixing up the horseshoe pits. Restoration would include the existing 80-year old masonry bas relief sculpture in the horseshoe pits of a man throwing horseshoes, originally created by the artist Jesse S. Vet Anderson.

This area will also become a part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, a 375-mile trail that circles around the Bay Area, which will enter the park at Arguello Boulevard before winding uphill, passing near the horseshoe pits.

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