Monday, August 9, 2010

Bay Area Ridge Trail: East Bay - Kennedy Grove to Inspiration Point, Tilden

(August 7, 2010)
4.4 miles Bay Area Ridge Trail, 6.3 miles total.
This blog is all about getting in shape, and centers around the gym, cycling the completed segments of the SF Bay Trail, and hiking the segments of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  Martinez, where I live, is one of the places where they meet.  For variety I decided to start hiking near home, hoping ridges overlooking the bay would be cool despite the summer, and to start cycling on the penninsula.  It's working but after a good first week where I hit both trails, I hadn't gotten in another Ridge Trail hike.

Yesterday I did (August 7).  My last Ridge Trail hike was on Sobrante Ridge.  Even though I started near home, there are a few hikes I'm skipping for now because they're so familiar.  Some good new segments are nearby too, on Muir Heritage Land Trust lands.  This week, however, I decided to start tackling some of the EBMUD watershed lands, near San Pablo and Briones reservoirs.  For those you need a permit, which is available online:  You can get maps there too, but they're not very good.  There's a better one at:

San Pablo creek

The East Bay Municipal Utility District is a public water utility formed in 1923, in part to secure a Sierra water source on the Mokelumne, which is piped to various local terminal reservoirs.  EBMUD bought out local water companies with tens of thousands of acres of lands and various reservoirs, then proposed selling excess lands along the Oakland-Berkeley hills.  Members of the public suggested that the lands be retained for recreation, EBMUD refused, and the citizens formed the East Bay Regional Park District in 1934 to acquire the surplus lands.

The lands of the two districts combine along the Oakland-Berkeley hills to form a great chain of parks and early on a regional trail that would later become one of the first links in the Bay Area Ridge Trail was created:  the 31-mile East Bay Skyline National Recreation Trail.

1960s' design meets 9/11

Although both districts are heavily influenced by the liberal politics of bayside cities, water districts generally have a different flavor than park districts--they're often run by empire building engineers, they're growth inducing, they have the freedom of secure water revenues and the criticisms of rate payers, despite which they often get little public scrutiny, at least when related to resource protection and recreation. 

Luckily EBMUD was formed during the height of a Depression-era citizens' revolution demanding secure municipal services as population grew, but one in which people were also demanding multi-use recreation.
San Pablo reservoir
Recreation is a sideline for most water districts, something they like to showcase as a reason for support, but about which they're not very good providers.  Watersheds often lack the variety of trails found in parks, and they're not as well designed--their managers are often focused on control, not surprising when your mission relates to water quality.

Park Districts are often run by conservationists and are focused on public use and resources--on attracting public use rather than limiting it.  There is a topographical difference too; in rugged areas parks are often located on peaks and ridgelines.  There may be a climb but once you get to the ridgetop the hiking is often easy.  Watershed lands are often by definition focused on rivers and canyons where dams can be located.  Other than trails along reservoir edges, most of them are steep, climbing up away from the water.

EBMUD lands fit all of those characteristics.  There are fewer trails open to the public; they're less well designed, more steep and the loops are longer; and you're required to get a permit ahead of time.  (It's a little easier now; you can pay for and print the permit from the web.  It's cheap too, $10 a year for a family, $20 for 3 years, or $30 for 5).  All of those things decrease public use.  Ironically, they also probably make the watershed lands better wildlife habitat and they provide more isolation.

On my hike yesterday I left the Park District's Kennedy Grove, crowded with hundreds of people, followed the San Pablo reservoir edge and saw a few, climbed up one EBMUD trail and saw no one, crossed into Wildcat and Tilden Regional Parks at the ridge and passed dozens of people on the way to Inspiration Point, then dropped back onto another EBMUD trail for the descent back to San Pablo reservoir and once again saw no one.  The park district ridgeline often has great views but yesterday the fog obscured the views and it was frankly tedious.  The water district trails on the slopes of San Pablo Ridge were harder but transcendent, breathtakingly beautiful.

Eagle's Nest Trail
I've hiked EBMUD lands in the past but other than Lafayette Reservoir, where recreation is handled very differently, it's been years.  More than twenty years ago I helped stop proposed reservoirs in the Pinole Valley watershed and at Buckhorn Canyon, and to elect a first-time environmental majorty to the Board of Directors.  EBMUD's empire building has been greatly reduced since then.  I'd never hiked the San Pablo reservoir watershed lands, I've simply looked at the heavily wooded slopes dropping east from Tilden and Wildcat while cycling or driving past on Bear Creek or San Pablo Dam roads.

Kennedy Grove to Inspiration Point, Tilden
I started in mid-afternoon and had sketched out a 9 or 10 mile loop including a 4.4 mile stretch of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.  I wanted to get in some hills and steepness--it's about a thousand foot gain, 600' in one mile--and to build up my endurance.  I accomplished my goal but ended up hiking 6.3 miles instead.  Still, it was my longest and steepest hike since the beginning of May.  I've been gearing up cardio at the gym and I was tired and sore even before I began.

Mt. Diablo view

Really, the only part of Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area I experienced was the parking lot, $5 fee, and a quick drop to San Pablo creek before heading south into EBMUD lands and along the edge of San Pablo reservoir.  218-acre Kennedy Grove was a pet project of one of the early Park District proponents, a union representative, and was named for the late president.  A railroad ran through the area; if EBMUD hadn't been created development might have stretched the entire length of San Pablo Dam road from Richmond to Orinda.

You climb up past San Pablo Dam and along the reservoir for 0.8 miles on wooded, shaded Old San Pablo Trail, with lots of views across the reservoir to Sobrante Ridge, a mosaic of chaparral, grassland and oak-bay woodland, and Scow Canyon, one of the reservoir's major coves.  Up through madrone and across San Pablo Dam Road which replaced the windier old road.  Then you climb the Eagle's Nest Trail and 600' gain in a mile through fog drip eucalyptus groves and grassland meadows to San Pablo Ridge and Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.  As you climb you get views north and south, and east to Mt. Diablo.  It was on this climb that I got an inkling of how out of shape I am.  Although it was clear and sunny, it was also cool and crisp as I had hoped.

Nimitz Way, Wildcat/Tilden Reg. Parks

When I lived in Berkeley, and in the years since, I've hiked, biked and run Nimitz Way at the ridgeline a thousand times.  There was a time when it might have been one of my favorite trails and, when the views over the bay are clear, it is quite beautiful.  At one time I knew it like the back of my hand.  Starting at Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon road, the first couple of miles are paved, then it continues as a fire road.

Yesterday I crossed out of the EBMUD lands near its midpoint and headed south toward Inspiration Point.  The paved trail rise and falls, passes through a eucalyptus grove and overlooks the interior of Wildcat and Tilden toward the bay.  It's in bad need of a fire, overgrown and crowded with coyotebush.  The fog was filling the bay, the views were clear to the next ridge then obscured, my feet were getting hot spots from the pavement, and there were just too many people.  Like the Bay Trail, it's a better run or bike ride.

view toward the fogged in bay

The EBMUD trails just on the east side of the ridge are parallel, unpaved and softer on the feet, and have wilder views to the east.  About a half mile before Inspiration Point there's a gate and you can cross back into the EBMUD lands, and take the Inspiration Trail south to Inspiration Point, or descend east back to the reservoir.  Of course the EBMUD map doesn't make that clear.  I continued all the way to crowded Inspiration Point, my feet increasingly sore, then crossed back into EBMUD, and doubled back on the suddenly solitary Inspiration Trail.

After 0.6 miles I reached the gate I'd seen but not understood while on paved Nimitz Way, and began dropping back to San Pablo Dam road and the reservoir.  This 1.3 mile drop was the best part of the hike, despite even more steepness than Eagle's Nest Trail.  In the reverse direction it would be a killer climb.

fog cresting San Pablo ridge
The fog had filled the bayside and was topping the ridge, swirling into the warmer air and dissipating.  Later in the day it would repeat the battle over Briones and the still wamer Central Contra Costa air.  The views were incredible and the the winds had strengthened to almost gale force.  I almost felt like if I jumped straight up I'd be carried far down the hill.  The trail winds and drops, but by now, despite my sore feet and trepidation about how many miles remain between me and the loop's end, I'm experiencing sheer joy.

When I reach bottom, and cross San Pablo Dam Road, my hike is over.  It's four miles of trail back to Kennedy Grove but I stick out my thumb instead.  I guess I didn't look too threatening.  Five minutes later I have a ride back to the start.

Inspiration Trail

1 comment:

  1. Do you know how good the signage for Eagle's Nest and Inspiration Trail are? I was thinking of running down Eagle's Nest along Old San Pablo Trail and back up Inspiration, but I'm a little concerned about how hard those are to locate.