Monday, August 1, 2011

walking tour of Shepherd Canyon

Saturday was another Oakland Heritage Alliance walking tour, this one closer to home for me than most. It centered on Shepherd Canyon in Montclair, and was called "Back to the Future: A Shepherd Canyon Walk Through History". Led by Shepherd Canyon resident Mike Petouhoff, we learned about the transit that was, the transit that is, and the transit that fortunately did not come to be. Mike is not only a resident, he's president of the Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association (SCHA) and has been an activist to preserve and improve the area. As a result, he's extremely knowledgeable about the area, past efforts, and plans for the future.

The tour started near the Montclair recreation center, and was very well organized even though we had a large group. After check in, we headed through the park and saw the first signs of past transit. Along Mountain Boulevard, there are two large concrete walls. Many residents don't realize those are left from the days when the Sacramento Northern Railway ran behind the village. There have been plans floated about to paint murals on the walls facing the street, with one perhaps showing the railroad in action.

on the railroad trail

We then walked through the village, and up the short but steep climb up to the railroad trail (for reference, there's a less steep route, too.) This wide, level trail follows the old railroad right of way, which makes it ideal for walking and biking -- it's part of my bike route home. Along the trail there are various interpretive signs about the history installed by Eagle scout Daniel Levy. Originally, the Sacramento Northern was primarily for passengers, but later carried mostly freight. Conspiracy theorists will be pleased to note there really was a conspiracy by GM, Firestone, Standard Oil and other companies that helped lead to the demise of electric streetcars and interurban railways around the U.S. But the Sacramento Northern also faced increasing competition from shorter, less steep railroad routes. Passenger service on this part of the route ended in 1941, the final electric train on the SN was in 1965, and the last vestiges of the SN were folded into the Union Pacific in 1983.

Further up the trail, we learned about the freeway that was never built. CalTrans bought up land in Shepherd Canyon with the plan of building highway 77. It was to be an extension of Park Blvd., and would run up the canyon and connect highway 13 with Contra Costa county (much as highway 24 does just two miles north). Fortunately, community activists argued against the plan, and the area was preserved. In 1972, assembly member Ken Meade officially protected the area with AB561. After the downfall of the freeway plan, the Shepherd Canyon Corridor Plan was shaped by volunteers, and now guides the preservation of the canyon.

Torii Gate

We then crossed over Shepherd Canyon Road, via a crosswalk that's not yet been built. We walked up Escher Drive (probably the most energetic part of the walk), and came to a trail head marked by a Torii Gate. This was added fairly recently, and serves to mark the trail head, indicate potential pedestrians, and also nicely frames a view out over the canyon. We then followed the trail down to the upper meadow. OHA had a display showing what the meadow used to look like, back when the city used it as a dump for debris. An EIR done many years ago was used to leverage the city into cleaning up much of the debris, but the SCHA continues to work to beautify the meadow and return it to a more natural state.

From there we headed down the canyon to the playing fields in Shepherd Canyon Park, saw where Shepherd Creek comes to the surface, walked past fire station 24, back up to the railroad trail and back to the village where we began. It was a great tour, and although I knew some of the history, the work done south of Shepherd Canyon Road was all new to me.

A note on the spelling. The street and most maps refer to "Shepherd Canyon", yet the creek is sometimes referred to as "Shephard Creek". No one seems quite sure where the discrepancy came in, but the area was named for a farmer, William Joseph Shepherd, who came from England in 1869.

More reading:

Lots more photos from the tour here:
Shepherd Canyon walking tour

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