Glen Echo Creek’s Parks

The Water Runs Through Them


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     Long ago, creeks flowed down Oakland’s hills in a gushing roar. Profuse and many-branched, these enthusiastic waterways now do their work largely unseen, as the majority of them have been culverted. A nice exception is Glen Echo Creek, which surfaces in several places to high-five the sun.
     Glen Echo Park: It doesn’t get more “pockety” than this for pocket parks, a shaded sweet spot of running waters just steps from Piedmont Avenue. Here, Glen Echo Creek gets to catch a breath of air on the south side of Monte Vista Avenue. On the other side, a community garden showcases native plants and year-round flower displays and provides paths through the wooded glade. Activists worked in the 1970s to keep the park from being developed for high-density housing. “We would have lost the creek, all its habitat values, had no open space and instead four-story buildings,” says Valerie Winemiller, who lives in the neighborhood and engaged in the long-ago push for an open-space solution. Today, residents get together every second Saturday to groom the park.
     Oak Glen Park: Glen Echo Creek daylights again about eight blocks west on Piedmont (then turn left on Croxton Avenue) at this gem of a park, which holds a stone bridge with mosaics, now sadly in disrepair). Park steward Kate Dobbins says, “The little pergola is beautiful when covered in wisteria, but it’s kind of fallen by the wayside.” Here, too, neighbors meet monthly to weed, mulch, pull out feral trees and plant native ones. Dobbins’ interest is personal: “I grew up here and used to play in the creek. I got poison oak all the time.” These days, she chops ivy so it doesn’t strangle the several-centuries-old oaks.
     Unnamed Urban Preserve: Finally, downstream the creek peeks out once more at 30th and Richmond, in an unnamed urban preserve without formal public access. This steep lot, where Cooper’s Hawks nest, was once slated for high-density housing and paved parking, but concerned neighbors showed up in force to literally hug trees in a shouting stand-off with tree removers. A bond measure now protects this little spot, owned by the city.
     Fill your backpack with gorp (“good old raisins and peanuts,” as any Girl Scout could tell you, aka “trail mix”) for this urban hike, and enjoy the all-too-rare sound of rushing water. Oakland’s original inhabitants fished this creek in tule canoes — try to imagine that.

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