Golden Gate Park

Work Begins to Repair Stow Lake Paths

By Judy Goddess

Work began on the 1.1-mile perimeter path at Stow Lake in early December when SF Recreation and Park Department workers removed eight trees. While several of these trees were downed because they hung over the road, most were removed because they have upended the asphalt path east of the Boat House, creating a hazard for pedestrians, parents pushing strollers, people in wheelchairs and people using walkers. 

“It’s an accessibility issue,” explained Tamara Aparton, deputy director for Communications and Public Affairs at the SF Recreation and Park Department. 

The next step is to work on the path, sections of which have deteriorated to gravel and mud. Once completed, Aparton says the path will be “firm and stable and meet ADA standards.” 

Benches and picnic tables that do not meet ADA standards will also be replaced. The last stage of the Stow Lake Project will see 16 new trees planted, two for each tree removed. If all goes as predicted, the work should be completed by spring 2023, Aparton said. 

While Rec. and Park has not received “a ton of complaints” about the broken sidewalk, the Mayor’s Office on Disability has heard from disgruntled community members who find the path too challenging to navigate. 

Trees that were damaging the pathway along the shore of Stow Lake have been removed. New trees and walkways will be installed. Photo by Michael Durand.

Rec. and Park plans to work on half the path at a time to keep the area open to visitors. 

Stow Lake was created in 1893 by Park Superintendent John McLaren. The area had been sand dunes before McLaren and his men decided to shovel out the sand and build what was considered “a landscaping masterpiece and wilderness sanctuary.” Today, Stow Lake is enjoyed by San Francisco families of all nationalities and thousands of out-of-town visitors each year, many of whom enjoy renting rowboats and pedal boats at the Boat House at the north end of the Lake. 

The lake is also home to hundreds of waterfowl and birds, including blue herons which should begin nesting there in January. Other Stow Lake attractions include Strawberry Hill, an island which is not included in the accessibility plan, the waterfall cascading down from Strawberry Hill, the Chinese Pavilion, and the rock bridge built in the late 1800s which crosses Stow Lake on the southwest side of the island. 

Funds for the replacement and refurbishing project come from the General Fund, the Mayor’s Office on Disability, and the Recreation Stimulus and Critical Affairs Budget.

For information about the Stow Lake path project, contact rpd@sfgov.org.

4 replies »

  1. I tried multiple times to comment and ask questions during the period that the trees were marked for removal, but was blocked each time with an auto-reply email. There was no need to remove those trees for ADA access, the roots could have been trimmed for re-paving. I visited the site with an arborist who said the trees were not in need of removal. A second arborist informed me that there was never any way to challenge Rec&Park decisions on tree removal. Bah!

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  2. I didn’t know that this work was going to be done, but am happy that the paths are going to be made more accessible. During the early days of Covid I visited Stow Lake many times to take my adult daughter, who uses a wheelchair, for walks. The path around the lake was very hard to traverse for any distance. The surface was broken or missing in many places, not always wide enough, had mud and water encroaching to the middle of the path, and yes the roots of trees also made it impossible to push her chair past. There were a lot of benches, and also many people who were relaxing there. But many of the benches were off the path, with mud and soggy grass which are impossible to go through with a wheelchair. I too am in favor of saving trees whenever possible, but the work being done is long overdue.

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  3. Since when is asphalt more worthy of “saving” than a living mature gorgeous tree? Wreck and Park at it again. Perhaps one day soon they will have “restored” SF to the bare sand dunes it once was. Ugh.

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