My hike through Oakland’s Dimond Canyon last week put me in a melancholy mood. It was unexpected. Walking the amazing trails of our urban wildlands is one of the things I love and appreciate about Oakland; it’s how I decompress and unwind. Getting over to Dimond Canyon had been on my local bucket list for quite some time; I have not walked the trail along Sausal Creek for as long as I can remember. It had been on my mind since I had heard of a local documentary being screened around town, Trailhead. After a couple of recent trips into the Oakmore neighborhood, crossing over the canyon on the historical Leimert Bridge, I was inspired to move it to the top of my list. It coincided perfectly with a screening of Trailhead I was able to attend last Thursday. So Friday morning, I was able to spend some time exploring the area, and my concern with how it’s being treated arose.
Named for wealthy gold rusher Hugh Dimond who settled the area in the 1800’s, Dimond Canyon is one section of a larger area know as the Sausal Creek Watershed. I had to look up exactly what a watershed is; a watershed is an area of land that separates water into various bodies such as rivers, streams and creeks that then flow to a final larger body of water. Sausal Creek is the body of water flowing through Dimond Canyon, but it is all part of the larger “Sausal Creek Watershed” which includes the various creeks and tributaries that run from Shephard Canyon and Joaquin Miller Parks. These other creeks and streams feed into Sausal Creek which then feeds into the Oakland Estuary.
The 20-minute film Trailhead, a documentary project of OaklandTrails.org, highlights the trail system within the watershed, from its amazing history to the various organizations working to maintain, restore, teach, and promote appreciation of the wildland parks.
I started my morning hike at the entrance to the canyon located on El Centro Avenue, just above Dimond Park. It was a cool morning and the sun was just starting to come out. I headed along the creek on the damp pathway of Dimond Canyon Trail joined by a few fellow dog walkers and a young mom with her coffee in hand and sleeping baby on her chest. I enjoyed the quiet, the sound of running water, and smiled at the sight of a environmental class in session with school children along the way. I looked forward to my initial destination, the Leimert Bridge, which I had recently done a bit of reading on.
One thing that I noticed that caused me to pause a bit was the amount of off-leash dog activity on the trails and through the creek. While I am a dog owner and lover, I have always been sensitive to off leash dogs on leashed trails. I had learned from watching Trailhead that Sausal Creek is home to a unique population of wild rainbow trout. Nearly every dog I came across was off leash and many were crashing through the water. It was just something I noticed and decided to look into a bit more when I had time.
I continued on and came to one of the newly placed mosaics that directs you to turn left to cross the creek to Old Canyon Trail. I knew that this was the way I would have to take to continue all the way up the canyon, but I wanted to stay on Dimond Canyon Trail so I could take a closer look at the Leimert Bridge.
The Leimert Bridge was built in 1926 by developers Walter and Harry Leimert, who were interested in developing Oakmore Highlands. It was designed by George Posey, who also designed the Posey Tube which takes you under the estuary into Alameda. It was the longest single span bridge of its time. The old Key Route streetcars used to run over it, with the turnaround located just to the east of it in the small Oakmore Business District.
This is where my disappointment set in. I was not expecting to see so much graffiti. Not only was it covering the underside of the bridge, but I started to notice it on surrounding signage, as well as in sections of the creek, on concrete retaining walls.
I don’t know if I am naive, I was just so surprised. I feel like my recent explorations of Oakland have shown me how the beauty and history of our city is being appreciated, preserved, and valued. It saddened me. I backtracked to the mosaic directing me across the creek to Old Canyon Trail, which takes you up the hill and along the western side of the canyon. The trail takes you under the bridge again, and then runs along the top of the canyon, tucked underneath the edge of Park Boulevard. The underside of the road has become a canvas for more graffiti.
The trail is such a lovely, meandering walk. It’s an oasis right in the middle of our city. I suppose that even though I consider it a canvas already created in nature, others feel it is a blank canvas on which to leave their mark. What started to bother me further was seeing paint marring actual trees and plants.
I was running a bit short on time so I couldn’t take the trail too much further. As you get closer to the backside of the Montclair Golf Course, another mosaic directs you to turn right on Bridgeview Trail. I decided to take it for a short distance back down to the creek before turning around. Unfortunately my glimpses of the creek were more colorful than I had hoped for.
If you continue on Bridgeview Trail it will criss cross back across the canyon and take you around the golf course and up to Monterey Blvd. The beauty of this trail system is that you can take the tunnel under Highway 13 and connect into Joaquin Miller Park.
I had to keep a hurried pace to return back to my starting point, but I realized that my visit here left me with a different intention on how I would share my time in Dimond Canyon. I wanted to get more information from those that knew more than me.
To learn more about the trail leashing policy as well as the impact of the graffiti, I reached out to Stan Dodson, producer of Trailhead and Executive Director of OaklandTrails.org and Kimra McAfee, Executive Director of Friends of Sausal Creek.
Leash Policy: Kimra confirmed that all trails in Dimond Canyon and Joaquin Miller Park are “on leash” trails per city ordinance. The exception is the Joaquin Miller Dog Park. The creek is home to native, wild rainbow trout. As Kimra told me, “There is sensitive trout spawning, rearing, and summer pool habitat in sections of the creek, and dogs in the creek can disturb that habitat.” Stan also told me that he is working with the city to approve new signage to place near areas where dogs have been allowed to run up and down the hillsides, causing erosion. He told me that a pilot program will be launched in 2016 for Oakland Volunteer Park Patrol. An important aspect of this will be a diverse volunteer population so that dog walkers can educate fellow dog walkers about the importance of keeping dogs on leash and on trail. In addition, new flyers were recently launched to remind people of the importance of cleaning up after their dogs.
Graffiti: Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to get this under control. The city has no resources to deal with it. Kimra told me how much the graffiti on trees and plants saddens her. Stan told me that he tries to cover up the graffiti on trees with mud. He used to paint over the graffiti in the creek, but it would be tagged again within a day or two. Kimra also noted that an additional problem is the related trash that is left behind, in particular spray paint cans, which flows into the creek and then into the bay. There is an in-creek team that has quarterly volunteer days to pull trash out of the creek. Ironically, the biggest offender is golf balls from Montclair Golf Course, Kimra told me that over the past 2 years they have removed more than
3,000 golf balls from the creek.
So while my visit to Dimond Canyon took a turn I wasn’t expecting, I don’t want it to deter you from taking a stroll through this amazing urban wildland. I was out of time, but on my next visit I want to continue on and connect through to enjoy the wilderness of Joaquin Miller Park as well.
These areas are our backyard; they are filled with history, beauty, native species, and so much more. They can offer all of us a chance to relax, unwind, meander, and appreciate the wilderness of our city. Let’s protect and cherish it.
Both organizations are doing so much to improve and protect these areas of Oakland. I encourage you to take a look at their websites for additional information.
The movie Trailhead has additional screenings coming up, more information can be found on OaklandTrails.org.
Trails and Tributaries of the Sausal Creek Watershed Map – created by Karen Paulsell, Copyright of Friends of Sausal Creek
Trailhead Film Promotional Image – supplied by Stan Dodson
Image of Oakmore Highlands Advertisement 1926 – sourced via sfbayview.com
Panoramic Image of Leimert Bridge – sourced via keepoaklandbeautiful.org
Historic Image of streetcar on Leimert bridge – sourced via oakmorehomes.com
Resource Protection Area Sign Image – supplied by Stan Dodson, OaklandTrails.org
Dog Waste Flyer Image – supplied by Kimra McAfee, FOSC
All other photos by Adrienne Schell