Hands Off Mt Davidson’s Forest – Take it Away from NAP

San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) plans to remove 1/3 (10 acres) of the mature and healthy forest on Mount Davidson. We think the 30-acre forested area of the mountain should be removed from NAP’s control to prevent this destruction. The forest should be managed by professional foresters, like those in the Presidio, not gardeners.

In June, 3 years ago, U.C. Berkeley Forestry Management Professor Dr. Joe R. McBride (pdf link: MtDavidson_McBride_Ginsburg(06-29-13)) wrote about his inspection of the Mt Davidson forest, concluding that the Natural Areas Program’s  Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP) for the removal and thinning of different portions of the eucalyptus plantation on Mt. Davidson is NOT justified.

He noted that the forest serves an important role in the history and visual characteristics of the city. Trees and the existing understory provide habitat for wildlife and wind protection for walkers.

mt davidson forest - hiker on trail

Summary of Dr. McBride’s letter to Phil Ginsburg, General Manager of the SF Recreation & Park Dept (parent Department of Natural Areas Program (NAP)):

1) Historic importance and Visual Value.
The eucalyptus forest on Mount Davidson was planted under the direction of Adolph Sutro, philanthropist and former Mayor of San Francisco. The hilltops covered in eucalyptus trees and Monterey cypresses are a distinctive feature of San Francisco’s landscape. They’re been there for a hundred years and are an important historical heritage.

2) Eucalyptus is not invasive.
The Plan frequently refers to these trees as “invasive.” Prof. McBride’s studies indicate that eucalyptus does not invade adjacent grasslands; and this is also obviously true on Mt Davidson, where a stable boundary exists between the forested and unforested areas. [In fact, the California Invasive Plant Council, which had earlier considered eucalyptus as moderately invasive downshifted this classification in April 2015 to “Limited.]

3) Eucalyptus groves are biodiverse.
Eucalyptus groves are richer habitats for vertebrates than either redwood or Monterey cypress/pine forest; and are similar to dry chaparral and grasslands.

4) More Pesticides.
Removing the number of trees shown in the Plan will expose the ground to more light than existing understory plants can tolerate. In the disturbed ground and increase light conditions, existing exotic species will proliferate and will have to be controlled by using even more pesticides.

5) Increased wind-throw and breakage of remaining trees.
Removing trees in this windy area will affect the trees that remain, which are not wind-hardened. More trees will go down.

6) Reducing a wind-break.
This is a very windy part of the city, with winds blowing in straight from the ocean. Walking recreationally on Mt Davidson will be a less pleasant experience.

7) Reduction in habitat.
The Plan’s assumption that birds will quickly adjust to removal of 1600 trees is unfounded. Many birds return to the same nesting site each year. Cutting down large numbers of trees displaces these birds, and also causes a great deal of disturbance. Bird protection plans usually call for a 300-foot radius of protected area around a nest.

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

Girdled tree Mount Davidson

8) The forest is healthy.
The dead trees in the forest have been girdled by someone/s with a vendetta against eucalyptus; few trees – if any – have died naturally.

9) Ivy is not a problem.
English and Algerian ivy climbs up the trees, but cannot smother the trees by growing into the canopy. The only snags covered in ivy were those that had been girdled.

10) Regeneration is a 22nd Century issue.
It’s been argued that the understory of ivy, Cape ivy, and Himalayan blackberry may restrict the establishment of eucalyptus seedlings. If so – and it’s possible – this is a problem for the next century. The forest, though 100 years old, is comparatively young. This could be revisited in another 100 years or so. Meanwhile, the understory provides an excellent food source and cover for wildlife.

Mt Davidson 2 - fuschia flourishing despite drought, watered by the trees catching the fog

 

Below: Mt Davidson map shows where 10 acres of healthy, mature trees will be removed if the  SNRAMP plans for maximum restoration are approved.  The red, green and yellow notations highlight the information contained SNRAMP plans (as per notes on the lower, bottom left)..

Mt Davidson Map from SNRAMP document

Mt Davidson Map from SNRAMP, highlighted to show where one-third of the forest will be removed.

 

San Francisco’s RPD is Closing 31% of Our Parkland in “Natural Areas”

[This article has been updated 7/21/2016 to include more recent pictures. The text has been slightly edited.]

The San Francisco Forest Alliance opposes the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD)’s Natural Areas Program (NAP) for several reasons: Destruction of trees and other habitat for birds and animals; the use of toxic herbicides; and widespread access restrictions for residents and their families including their kids and pets.

NAP is restricting parks to on-trail use only – which shrinks the parks to a fraction of their original usable size.

Grandview-with-Fog-Bank1-600x400

Grandview Park with Fenced Trail

This article is about access – specifically, NAP is closing even more trails than disclosed in the Significant Resource Areas Management Plan (SNRAMP). In the SNRAMP, they said they were planning to close or relocate around ten miles of trail, which was bad enough. But recent actions by NAP show that they are actually closing even more trail than they disclosed in that plan, and that they have already started implementation – despite the Plan not being certified. The SNRAMP is not yet certified, and as such, should not be implemented until the certification is completed. This appears to be a violation of at least three regulations.

Furthermore, this is all being done quietly. We were able to get actual maps of  “designated trails” – but only for a few parks. This article by Tom Borden spells out the details.

mclaren park 2 sign 2015

SFRPD “Welcomes” you

CRIMINALIZING PARK USE

RPD’s Natural Areas Program put up signs in its parklands early last year that say, “Stay on designated trails.”

The signs cite Park Code 3.02, which states, “No person shall willfully disobey the notices, prohibitions or directions on any sign posted by the Recreation and Park Commission or the Recreation and Park Department.” Violations are punishable by fines of $100 and up. This means we can be fined for going off-trail or for using un-designated trails. However, “designated trails” aren’t necessarily marked. How can we tell which trails are Designated and which trails are not? Does the Park Patrol know?

AVOIDING TOXIC CHEMICALS

There is another reason we care which trails are Designated. If we stick to them we can avoid exposure to toxic pesticides like Roundup and Garlon 4 Ultra, which NAP regularly uses in our parks. The Department of Environment has issued rules that govern the NAP’s pesticide spraying, “Restrictions on “most hazardous” (Tier I) herbicides” (Read the rules here: 032216_restrictions_on_herbicides). It prohibits land managers from spraying these chemicals within 15 feet of a “designated, actively maintained public path”. (As the Department of Environment worked on that restriction with RPD, that phrase went from “public path” to “designated public path” to “designated actively maintained public path“. Good thing they are looking out for us!)

WHICH TRAILS ARE “DESIGNATED”?

Of course, the rule is pointless if nobody knows which trails are Designated and Actively Maintained. How would the NAP staff and contractors know where they are allowed to spray? How would the public know where it is safe to walk?

SF Forest Alliance wrote a letter to Phil Ginsburg asking that maps of Designated Trails in all Natural Areas be posted on the RPD website. Mr. Ginsburg refused to respond. (Here’s our letter of 15 June 2016)

sffa letter to Phil Ginsburg june 2016

SF Forest Alliance also submitted a Sunshine request to RPD and was referred to the RPD website where maps for a few Natural Areas are posted. However, there are maps for only 8 of the 32 Natural Areas and two of those posted do not seem to be correct (McLaren and Lake Merced).

WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?

Why won’t RPD’s Natural Areas Program provide maps of their Designated Trails? What are they hiding? The elephant in the room is the effective closure of 31% of our parkland to public access. NAP’s intent, and the meaning of the signs, is that our use of NAP-controlled parkland is limited to their Designated Trails. We may not leave those trails.

TRAILS LIKE CATTLE CHUTES

The NAPs plans to close trails and limit the public to on-trail access only is disclosed in their 2006 Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan or SNRAMP. The SNRAMP proposes “enforcement” to keep people from wandering off-trail and as a “last resort”, the installation of fences. So far, they have skipped over enforcement and gone straight to fences. Grandview Park and Corona Heights have so many fences you feel like you are in a maze of cattle chutes. Implementation of the SNRAMP has serious environmental consequences and so the plan is subject to CEQA. An EIR for the plan has been in process since 2005 and has yet to be released to the Planning Commission for certification.

Corona Heights

Corona Heights fenced trail

In the next section are maps of the NAP areas where Designated Trails have been identified. For parks that have gotten the full NAP treatment, a tally of sharp cornered, splinter enriched, split rail, access control fencing is included. Notice how some of these trail closures cut off entire neighborhoods from their parks. The only public use of NAP parkland is along those green lines. The rest is off-limits.

Corona splinters

TRAIL MAPS BEFORE AND AFTER

On the maps, trails are marked in three colors. The green trails are the Designated Trails where we are still allowed to walk. The red trails are ones identified in the SNRAMP as unwanted and planned for closure when the SNRAMP is implemented. It is now illegal to use those trails. The purple trails are identified in the SNRAMP as Designated Trails to remain open. However, the NAP has chosen to close those as well. In some parks like Grandview, Glen Canyon and Corona Heights, the red and purple trails have been physically closed with fencing and piles of tree limbs. This has yet to be done extensively in the other parks mapped. For now the trails are closed by virtue of the signs, Park Code 3.02 and the maps posted on the RPD website. Don’t worry, the fences are coming. Each park map is followed by a skeleton map highlighting the tiny amount of parkland now open to the public. the colored areas show the usable space in the park. In all the “after” pictures, it’s just the actual – limited – trail.

billy goat hill before and after

corona hieghts before and afterglen canyon before and after1

 

 

grandview before and after

twin peaks trails before and after

hawk hill before and after

The SNRAMP states that 26% of the existing trails would be closed, leaving us with 30.8 miles of trail. Based on the information unearthed to date, the NAP is actually closing 51% of the trails in Natural Areas. If we extrapolate the actual closure rate to all of the Natural Areas, the 41 miles of existing and planned trails documented in the SNRAMP will be reduced to 20.9 miles.

SHRINKING OUR PARKS

The loss in trails is nothing compared to the loss in actual parkland available to the public. Assuming the average trail is 10 feet wide and the NAP only closes the trails disclosed in the SNRAMP (both very generous assumptions based on what we have seen so far), we can calculate how much parkland remains for the public. 30.8 miles of 10 foot wide trail only amounts to 37 acres. This is 3.4% of the 1100 acres available to the public before the new access restrictions. That is unacceptable. At the actual trail closure rate we will only be left with 25 acres. That is even more unacceptable, especially if your neighborhood park is a Natural Area.

IS SFRPD ABOVE THE LAW?

The signage, trail closures and fences implemented to date appear to violate the following:

  • BOS resolution 653-024 which prohibits the NAP from imposing, “Trail closures, or restrictions on access and recreation” until the Board of Supervisors (BOS) has approved the natural areas management plan (SNRAMP). They have not approved the management plan.
  • CEQA, PLANNING DEPARTMENT CASE NO. 2005.1912E.  The SNRAMP Environmental Impact Report has not been certified by the Planning Commission, yet the NAP is implementing its plan. All of the trail closures, fences and signage are part of the SNRAMP. RPD is brazenly violating CEQA.
  • City Charter Article IV section 4.113 RECREATION AND PARK COMMISSION: No park land may be sold or leased for non-recreational purposes, nor shall any structure on park property be built, maintained or used for nonrecreational purposes, unless approved by a vote of the electors.” The signs and fences violate the intent of this, dramatically reducing the amount of parkland available for recreational uses. The parkland is not covered by a parking lot or a gift shop, but it takes away recreational space all the same.

The Recreation and Parks Department seems to be operating outside the rule of law. It does not answer to the public or the Board of Supervisors. It appears more concerned with pleasing special interests than the public at large. Something needs to be done.

McLaren Park walk: Looking at the Future, Minus 800 Trees

[Apologies: Some glitch on the website caused Draft versions of this post to be published. Please ignore the earlier posts.]

On a Saturday in late August 2015,  the San Francisco Forest Alliance organized a walk in John McLaren Park – Natural Areas for a  group of our supporters and other interested people. It wasn’t just about a walk through this fascinating park on San Francisco’s southern edge – we all wanted to understand what was planned for its future.

DSC00001

The group wanted to learn about the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (“SFRPD”) plans for the Park:  elimination of 8.3 acres of dog play areas; the removal of 809 trees ( eucalyptus, Monterey cypress and Monterey pine);  and using herbicides to poison the  “non-native, invasive” vegetation. The idea is to expand native plants – mainly scrub – in the Park.

In McLaren Park, nearly all the areas that are not actually built up or used for sports, are designated as “Natural Areas.”The Natural Area covers 165.3 acres and is made up of grassland, scrub, and blue gum eucalyptus trees. These are subject to the “Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan” – or SNRAMP (pronounced Sin-Ramp).

mclaren NAP Map 1

All the colored areas in the map above – brown, tan, and olive – are subject to SNRAMP.

SNRAMP McLaren Map

Outlined areas (with diagonal lines) will be “restored.”  Trees and shrubs are to be removed. Native species will be planted.

The walk was led by Tom Borden, bicyclist, and Ren Volpe, long-time dog walker both of whom know the park and RPD’s plans for McLaren.

THE TREES THAT ARE GREEN NOW

So with SNRAMP maps in hand the group walked 3+ miles around the Park to see the trees that the city wants to remove. According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park:    “… Tree removal at McLaren Park is planned mostly for individual trees or small groups of trees within grasslands. …”

We started the walk parallel to the Mansell St corridor, where the city plans to change 4 lanes of traffic into 2 lanes for vehicles and 2 lanes for pedestrians and bikes.

We believe the city will remove these trees along Mansell.  See link to the City’s plans here.

Trees along the north and south side of Mansell will be removed

Trees along south side of Mansell Street will be removed ” to preserve the grasslands … “

These other trees will likely be cut in this area along Mansell:

DSC00004

Trees to be removed to “…allow coastal scrub and oak woodland communities to become established…”

“... In the area downslope of Mansell Street, near the water tanks, the overall plan is to remove enough trees to preserve the grasslands and allow coastal scrub and oak woodland communities to become established. This would involve thinning the stand, which would leave the edges intact and would not result in a substantial change in ground‐level wind hazards and windthrow.

We walked along the trail to the Upper Reservoir and saw where the removal of “invasive” trees is planned and the reintroduction of native plants will be undertaken.

Guide Tom points out the area

Our guide points out where “invasive” trees will be removed … to be replaced by “sensitive plants to prevent the extinction of rare or uncommon grassland plants”

According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park: “… in some locations, trees would be replaced by native scrub or grassland species, which would open up views that are currently blocked by trees….

We diverted our walk to take in the magnificent views from this part of the Park.  The views from the Water Tower provided us with a 270 degree view looking west and north to the downtown skyline:

We walked along the Philosophers Way trail where Tom noted that trees along the sides of John Shelly Drive will be removed. This is presumably to open up to yet more views of the downtown skyline  – and to the wind.

 

At the east end of the Redwood Grove and picnic area, Tom shows which trees are likely to be removed

RESTRICTIONS ON PETS

We observed signs around the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater that dogs would be allowed off-leash around the amphitheater “unless there is a permitted event“.   Someone pointed out that dog-walkers needed to know when there is a “permitted event’ so that they could avoid the area or leash their dogs.  No one knew how SFRPD planned to communicate a  “permitted event.”

According to the SNRAMP document for McLaren Park: “… DPAs [Dog Play Areas – off leash] would be reduced by 14%. The existing DPAs at this park are 61.7 acres…

Our walk continued to the open grassland area  south of the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater and parallel to Mansell Street.  This photo show where grasslands will created by cutting down trees, and will be closed to people (and dogs).

Open grassland with threatened trees

Grassland, now open as a dog play area, will be restricted use and probably fenced off

More dog walkers will be coming to McLaren Park when the GGNRA clamps down on dog access in areas controlled by the National Park system (the Presidio, Fort Funston, etc).  This will force more dog walkers into an ever smaller area. It’ll be smaller still if NAP further restricts the existing boundaries that NAP is planning for the off leash dog area (now within the John Shelley Drive loop) – which is entirely possible.

RESTRICTIONS ON BICYCLES

Tom reminded us that the SF Urban Riders and McLaren Bike Masters had donated thousands of hours for trail-building in McLaren Park – and then were shut out of the trails they’d helped to build.  (We wrote about that HERE.)

Our tour included the grasslands area that looks down to Visitacion Valley and the Gleneagles Golf Course. We were informed that trails have been closed to bicycles where previously biking was allowed.

Looking down to Vistitacion Valley

Looking down to Visitacion Valley and the Gleneagles Golf Course

Lower trails closed

This portion of the Philosopher’s Way trail has been closed to bicyclists since earlier this year

In the area south of Mansell Street, near the 2 water tanks, NAP plans to remove enough trees to allow establishment of a coastal scrub community. That means many of the trees in the picture above will be removed.

RUINING THE AMBIANCE AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES

Local residents of San Francisco (people, bicyclists, dogs and wildlife) get enormous benefits from the beauty of McLaren Park.  It’s a  welcome respite for a very urban population, surrounded on all sides by freeways and boulevards. Local residents come here to enjoy the serenity and beauty that is just a few minutes from their homes.  A lot of that ambiance will be taken away when the City removes hundreds of trees.

It’s not just beauty. The trees in McLaren Park provide valuable ecosystem services. They fight climate change by sequestering carbon; and mature trees absorb more carbon than smaller young ones. They help fight urban pollution by trapping particles on their leaves, keeping them out of the air and our lungs. It cleans the air, especially fighting particulate pollution, by trapping particles on its leaves that eventually get washed onto the ground. They regulate water run-off and reduce the load on our sewer system.

In San Francisco, we have few wildland fires – and when we do, they’re grass fires. When the fog rolls in over the trees of McLaren Park, moisture drops on the ground, allowing for a dense damp understory that fights drought and resists fire. Trees  provide wind breaks, thus reducing the impact of wind on surrounding neighborhoods, and also reducing fire hazard.

TREES ARE GOOD FOR OUR HEALTH

Trees are good for our health. A New Yorker article linked here references a recent study that shows that ten additional street trees on a city block had the same health impact as giving each household $10,000 – or making all the adults seven years younger. Other studies have shown trees improve mental health, reduce stress, and aid healing.

SNRAMP is bad for health. Aside from blocking opportunities for outdoor exercise and recreation, it would require the use of large quantities of poisonous herbicides to prevent resprouting of the felled trees – herbicides that are likely get washed down the hillsides and into surface and ground water.

The City plans to remove 809 trees in this park since they are labelled “invasive”.  We strongly oppose this action.   Aside from the beauty of the Park, and the undisturbed wildlife habitat that would both be destroyed, we think it is environmentally irresponsible. Trees sequester carbon; eucalyptus, with its dense wood, its size, and its 400-500-year life-span, is particularly effective.

MORE WALKS, AND STAYING IN TOUCH

We plan to organize more such small-group walks through beautiful areas that will be impacted by SNRAMP.  They are always free, and no donations are expected. They’re guided by people who know the place well.  (HERE is a post about our recent visit to Sharp Park in Pacifica.) If you would like to know about the planned walks, as well as get updates about issues of trees and access restrictions, please stay in touch. We encourage you to enter your email address at the top right (“sign me up”) in order to receive our updates directly to your email.

If you’re on Facebook, please “Like” our page. https://www.facebook.com/ForestAlliance  We currently have 475 “likes.” Help us to take it over 500!

Let us know how we can be more effective and inclusive  at this email address: SFForestNews@gmail.com

 

Signs of Annoyance – Natural Areas Program

Recently, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) spent an estimated half-million dollars on signage, most of which listed various Don’ts (though ironically, they start with “San Francisco Recreation & Parks Welcomes You”). All our parks and open spaces are peppered with them. Many park users, who earlier had no idea that the Natural Areas Program (NAP) was designed to restrict access and usage, are upset. They’ve started “fixing” the signs. Someone sent us these pictures:

Natural Areas Program fixed sign

The sign has been “edited” to warn people of toxic pesticide use and wryly note that most of the park is off-limits except to staff and supervised volunteers.

Of course, we have been talking about toxic pesticides, but here’s a recent picture. Roundup (glyphosate) has been identified as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

Natural Areas Program pesticide notice

Here, it’s been used to destroy (non-native)  fennel, the pleasant-smelling feathery-leaved plant that is, incidentally, the host plant to the Anise Swallowtail, a beautiful butterfly that happens to be native.

Anise swallowtail butterfly breeds on fennel

In fact, as the altered sign below points out, nearly all the plants you see in San Francisco – including the grasslands NAP is ostensibly seeking to protect with its use of herbicides – are non-native. They still add to the beauty of the landscape, the greenery of our parks, and provide habitat for wildlife from insects to birds to mammals. The herbicides do nothing but poison these plants, leaving space for the next most aggressive plant to move in – most likely also non-native.

Fixed sign - whats wrong with Natural Areas Program

Excluded Bike Riders Volunteered Thousands of Hours

mclaren park sign 2015Tom Borden, a bike rider who has been active with various recreational bicycle organizations in San Francisco contacted us some weeks ago. A rash of new restrictive signage has gone up all over the parks of San Francisco, particularly Natural Areas – and they all say, among a host of other restrictions, No Bicycles. (We wrote about those restrictions here: Restricting Access to San Francisco’s Parks.)

The bike riders feel particularly betrayed as they have provided a great deal of volunteer labor in building and maintaining trails. They were also encouraged to shift usage from Golden Gate Park to McLaren Park – which also now has the same signs and prohibitions.

Speaking before the SF Recreation & Parks Commission, Borden asked for the issue to be resolved in a transparent public process. Here is his speech and his letter. (We have made minor style edits and added emphasis.)

BICYCLE RIDER’S SPEECH AND LETTER

I would like to speak in the context of my favorite park, JohnMcLaren. The same issues concern other people and other parks city wide. The Natural Areas Program has posted signs prohibiting people from bringing bicycles into half of McLaren Park.

  • They did this with no public input, no public discussion, no warning.
  • They did this after inviting cyclists to volunteer thousands of hours to help them build multiuse trails on the lands they are now closing to those same volunteers.
  • They did this in spite of the fact the surrounding communities have the highest concentration of children in the City who need expanded recreational opportunities, not less usable parkland.
  • They did this without approval of the Environmental Impact Report for their management plan. The most recent draft of the EIR states the best thing for the environment would be a scaled back NAP under which recreational use of park land would be maintained or expanded.
  • In support of the new NAP restriction, RPD has issued a statement there are “long standing regulations” that “bikes are not allowed on earthen trails” in our parks. This is a false claim.”

[Here is the information from Tom Borden’s letter to the Commission. You can see the whole letter here as a PDF: Bicycle Riders Letter to SF Parks and Recreation Commission ]

THE SITUATION

mclaren park 2 sign 2015In February 2015 RPD began installing new signs in our parks. There are two types, one for regular park areas and one for areas managed by the Natural Areas Program (NAP). The NAP signs flatly state, “No Bicycles.” The NAP signs appear on both paved and earthen trails. The signs for regular park areas make no mention of bicycles. Needless to say, San Franciscans who cycle are extremely unhappy about the signs that now prohibit bike riding on large portions of Twin Peaks, Mount Davidson and McLaren Park.

Letters were sent to RPD and to the Recreation and Park Commission noting cyclists objections and asking for an explanation. A formal response was returned by Phil Ginsberg on March 3. See [below]  for the full email exchange. To paraphrase the RPD email:

  • mclaren park sign 3a 2015The signs on the Interior Greenbelt were installed by accident. Cycling is still allowed there.
  • Cycling is still allowed on the designated portion of the GGP Oak Woodlands trail.
  • In all other parklands, bikes are not allowed on earthen trails.
  • Cycling is not allowed on certain NAP controlled lands.“The signs posted in McLaren Park are correct and are consistent with long-standing regulations. Many of the trails in McLaren are too narrow, run through sensitive natural habitat and are not constructed to support mountain biking.”
  • RPD will continue to partner with cyclists on the McLaren Bike Park project and invites cyclists to work with RPD to explore the possibility of implementing mountain bike trails in some parks.

I would like to address these statements.

Oak Woodlands trail

Many cyclists worked with the NAP on the project to restore the trail. Much of the multi-use portion is composed of very loose sand. We were told by NAP that they were going to add a compound to the sand to consolidate it into firm surface. However, they have declined to follow through on this. The trail is difficult to walk on and almost impossible to ride on. For all practical purposes, it is closed to cycling.

In all other parklands, bikes are not allowed on earthen trails.

What!!! This is a dramatic change in policy. I’ve been riding on dirt trails in the parks since 1976. My three children learned to ride their bikes on trails in Golden Gate Park. I’ve spent countless hours with family and friends riding around town and through one park or another. Now, just like that, it’s over?

What about the ongoing RPD children’s mountain biking program? (It always makes me smile when I meet a group of kids with their instructors on the trails in McLaren.) Why would you buy bikes and hire instructors to take kids on dirt trails if it is against your own regulations?

Multiple people have searched the SF Park Code. There are no rules forbidding cyclists from riding on dirt trails in any of our parks. I would challenge SFRPD to produce these ”long-standing regulations” nobody can find. See Appendix B for a list of all bicycle regulations that do appear in the Park Code. Bicycles are only prohibited from park areas if signs are posted to that effect. Legally, cyclists should obey those signs based on Park Code Section 3.02. See Appendix C for a list of the codes cited in the “fine print” at the bottom of the signs.

[Appendices can be found here as a PDF: appendices – Borden letter to Parks Commission ]

Cycling is not allowed on certain NAP controlled lands.

Putting aside the issue of dirt trails for a moment, why is cycling on asphalt paths forbidden on NAP lands?

Many of the trails in McLaren are too narrow

I ride all of the tails in the park (excluding the motorcycle hill climbs) and none of them are too narrow. In fact, most riders find narrow trails to be more fun and challenging. On narrow trails cycling speeds are lower, making it easier for cyclists and other trail users to avoid conflict. When we encounter other users, we just pull off to the side and let them pass.

Many of the trails in McLaren are not constructed to support mountain biking.

I have been riding in the park since the early 1980’s. Many of the same trails are still in place and look about the same now as they did then. The narrow social trails, some of which have been annexed into the official trail system, have been handling bike traffic for decades without problems. Some of the newer trails built under the Urban Trails program have problem areas, but not exclusively due to bicycle traffic. In any case, trail wear issues could be easily be addressed by allowing cyclists to play a stewardship role in the park.

Many of the trails in McLaren run through sensitive natural habitat

I would not argue that some trails run through sensitive natural habitat. Why is it ok to walk on those trails, but not to ride a bike?

Summary of Current Regulations

Based on the RPD signage and the Park Code, but ignoring unfounded assertions, cycling is permitted on paved and earthen trails in all of our parks unless signs are posted prohibiting it. Due to the NAP signage, bicycles may not be ridden on earthen or paved trails in signed NAP lands, and in fact, not even carried into these areas.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH NAP’S DECISION

There are a lot of things wrong with NAP’s decision to post these new signs to prevent people from riding bicycles in large portions of our parks. These are enumerated below.

  • Lack of Advance Notice and Community Input. This cycling ban was implemented with no public notice, no outreach by RPD, no public discussion. The signs were just suddenly there. How can a decision that affects so many park users be made behind closed doors?
  • RPD Commitments and Representations. Over the past 5 years, NAP invited cyclists to volunteer thousands of hours to build trails in Golden Gate Park Oak Woodlands, Interior Greenbelt and McLaren Park. All of this was with the understanding the trails being built were multi-use. Now it’s clear the Natural Areas Program used cyclists to get its trail work done and is now prohibiting those same people from using the trails. There are a lot of colorful adjectives to describe this. Let’s just say it’s wrong.
  • Drastic Unexpected Policy Change. On September 25, 2012 SF Urban Riders met with Phil Ginsberg, Denny Kern, Eric Anderson, Jim Wheeler, Dana Ketcham and Alex Randolph to discuss off-road cycling in the parks. We were asked to help steer cyclists away from Golden Gate Park and toward McLaren Park where trail conditions are sustainable and bicycles would be welcome. How does the policy change so drastically with no public process?
  • The will of the people. In 2004 RPD surveyed the public and compiled the 2004 Recreation Assessment Report. The greatest need identified by the public was for increased “walking and biking trails”. The surveyors did not ask about walking and biking separately so we cannot tell what percentage specifically wanted bike trails.

What San Francisco Wants in Its Parks

  • In 2010 SFRPD ran a needs assessment for McLaren Park. This involved a series of three meetings and two online surveys. The bike park and bicycle trails were the two most desired improvements to the park. Below is the raw statistical data presented as a pie chart. Why is SFPRD doing exactly the opposite of what people asked for?

Mclaren Needs Assessment

Cycling as Transportation

The impact of this NAP bicycle ban goes beyond preventing kids from biking in our parks. It also prevents people from cycling to our parks. What are you supposed to do with your bike after you ride to the perimeter of the park? Even if there were bike racks, you would lose your bike, or major portions of it, after leaving it on the edge of the park a few times. Before the ban, you would’ve just ridden in, found a nice spot and had your picnic with your bike nearby.

The ban also represents a denial of transportation cycling routes. Trails through NAP land are also practical bicycle transportation routes. For example, there is a fire road that runs above the golf course fence in McLaren Park. It goes all the way across the park east/west from Persia to Visitacion Avenue at Visitacion Valley Middle School. This is the nicest and safest bicycle route between the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley. The “No Bicycles” signs welcome you at either end.

This measure deals a significant blow to our city’s Transit First policies like Green Connections and runs counter to the philosophies put forth in the ROSE.

SNRAMP EIR

The entire plan [Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan – SNRAMP] for the NAP is currently under environmental review. Normally, projects do not proceed until the [Environmental Impact Report] or EIR is finalized and impacts are satisfactorily addressed. The NAP has been given leeway to operate in a maintenance mode pending completion of the EIR process. This action to bar cyclists from areas controlled by NAP goes far beyond maintenance. It is a new aggressive step to restrict public access to our parks. How can this be allowed?

Further, the intent of NAP to prevent people from riding bicycles on trails in natural areas was never discussed in the SNRAMP. See Appendix D for a review of all mentions of bicycles in the SNRAMP. This policy clearly reduces neighborhood connectivity, reduces access to recreation that promotes public health and discourages the use of bicycles for transportation. These impacts are just the sort the EIR process should be weighing.

If NAP intended this policy, it should have been explicitly stated in the SNRAMP and it should have been evaluated in the EIR process. The EIR needs to be redrafted to include this.

Why? RPD has not articulated why bicycles need to be excluded from NAP lands. How is the impact of a cyclist passing by on a trail any different from that of a pedestrian? If both stay on the trail, how is the adjacent natural area affected? The idea that bikes are inherently destructive is decades old dogma put forward by one entrenched user group that does not want to share our natural areas.

Just like pedestrians, irresponsible and uninformed cyclists can damage trails and the surrounding terrain by short cutting corners and switchbacks, using trails that are unsustainable, or bushwhacking across terrain with no trails. The best way to deal with these people is to bring them into the fold, not to create unreasonable rules that fuel an outlaw culture.

CONCLUSION

The NAP signage is ill conceived, unwarranted and oversteps the EIR process. The “No Bicycles” text should be removed from the signs. The statement that bikes are not allowed on earthen trails should be retracted. It is not backed up by regulations.

Trail cycling is a growing form of healthy recreation, enjoyed by people from all walks of life. As suggested by Phil Ginsberg, cyclists should work together with RPD to ensure the trail systems in our parks are sustainable and welcoming to all user groups. This might lead to a mix of multiuse, pedestrian and bike specific trails. Cyclists have already demonstrated they are a responsible user group, eager to steward the resources of our parks. I hope you will allow them to continue this.

If SFRPD still wishes to carry on with these new anti-cycling policies, it should be done through a transparent public process that insures the policies align with what San Franciscans actually want.

Respectfully,

Tom Borden

CORRESPONDENCE WITH GINSBURG

Tom’s letter to San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department’s General Manager Phil Ginsburg is reproduced here, with permission, as is Mr Ginsburg’s response (which is public information). Tom also made a presentation to the Parks and Recreation Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC), which is linked here: Bike ban

TOM BORDEN’S LETTER, 3/3/15

(Email from Tom Borden to Phil Ginsburg)

SFRPD has recently installed signs banning bicycles from areas of our parks managed by the Natural Areas Program. I take issue with this and would like to second the recent email from Dan Schneider of SF Urban Riders requesting that a discussion of this be added to the agenda for the next Recreation and Park Commission meeting. Please see the attached document that lays out the issues surrounding the ban. To get the ball rolling, concerned cyclists will be attending the Park, Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee meeting tonight. Thank you, Tom Borden

GINSBURG’S REPLY, 3/3/2015

(Email from Phil Ginsburg to Tom Borden)

Dear Tom,

I spoke with Dan Schneider earlier today, but am also reaching out to you and others copied on your email. We recognize your concerns and take all public input about our parks quite seriously. The Recreation and Park Department manages over 4,000 acres of land and over 30 miles of urban trails. Our goal is to provide opportunities for safe, fun spaces that welcome all types of uses including mountain biking. Currently mountain biking is allowed on earthen trails in the Interior Greenbelt and in portions of the Oak Woodlands in Golden Gate Park. In all other parklands, bikes are not allowed on earthen trails.

Recently, newly designed parks signs went up in a variety of park locations and admittedly have created some confusion. Incorrect signs were posted in the Interior Greenbelt; mountain biking is permitted on the Interior Greenbelt trails. We are in the process of fixing those and expect to have that work completed in the next two weeks.

The signs posted in McLaren Park are correct and are consistent with long-standing regulations. Many of the trails in McLaren are too narrow, run through sensitive natural habitat and are not constructed to support mountain biking. However, as we have discussed, the department is working to expand opportunities for mountain biking in McLaren. First, as you know, we are partnering with the San Francisco Urban Riders to build a bike park in McLaren. Second, the Department would like to work with SFUR and other interested mountain bikers by engaging in a park-wide circulation study that will help us identify opportunities and constraints for expanding mountain biking trails in McLaren and, perhaps, elsewhere. We recognize that mountain biking is a healthy recreational opportunity and pledge to continue to work with SFUR to expand opportunities for mountain biking throughout the city.

Best,

Philip A. Ginsburg

General Manager, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Glen Canyon with Stairs and Coyote

This is one of our “park visitor” series – first person accounts of our parks, published with permission.

Escher's_Relativity

Source: Wikipedia (fair use)

It was dusk when I climbed down into Glen Canyon from the Christopher Playground. It’s been some months since I visited it last, and I was saddened by the changes stemming from SF Recreation and Parks “trails” project.

All the hillside trails have been made into staircases.  It reminded me of a drawing by Escher: they’re nearly as as difficult to walk. The risers of the box steps are high and the pitch not suited to everyone. Tiring and hard on the knees, and so it will effectively restrict access to many people.

COYOTE…

But then a coyote came out of the bushes. I was delighted, though not surprised.  Coyotes inhabit most of the city now, and the park has coyote-spotting signs up at the Christopher playground. But what followed was a surprise (to me, anyway!)

The park is surrounded by urban areas, and an emergency vehicle was racing by on the street above, siren wailing. “Watch,” said my companion. “He’s going to howl with the siren.” And sure enough – the little coyote raised his muzzle to the sky, gave a few barks, and then howled along with the siren.

I managed to get a blurry photograph. coyote howlingA few dogs from nearby homes responded with a woof or two, but they weren’t serious. The siren-coyote duet continued until the vehicle raced away and the sound faded. The coyote sat down, convinced, I thought, that it had told off the intruder into its territory and announced who really occupied this space.

The dusk deepened, and this magical moment was broken by  flights of mosquitoes. I’ve been to Glen Canyon many times over many years, and these are a new thing for me. Wonder if it’s anything to do with the Islais Creek – and the felling of the bat trees.

Restricting Access to San Francisco’s Parks

snramp sign STAY ON THE TRAILAccess to our parks and especially our Natural Areas is one of our key concerns with the Natural Areas Program – and the values that underlie it, now being spread to all open lands. (Click here for our article on Natural Areas Program restricts access.)

Sadly, despite a deluge of phone-calls and emails from all of you, the Supervisors did pass the ROSE Policy 4.2 which will extend the same thinking to all open areas. The Biodiversity Plan is intended to document all the areas in the city where native vegetation could grow – and hopes to extend the Plan to all those areas.

MORE RESTRICTIONS

Recently, it seems that San Francisco Recreation and Parks found money to pay for a whole host of new restrictive signs. They’re even worse than the old ones.

We’ve heard the most complaints from McLaren Park, where besides restricting people to trails, they have prohibited bicycles and tree climbing.

mclaren park 2 sign 2015

mclaren park sign 3a 2015

THOU SHALT NOT…

SFRPD logo1The sign starts with “San Francisco Recreation and Parks welcomes you” and then goes on to tell you just how unwelcome you are. What you can’t do:

  • Go off the trails. If your kids want to explore or run around, or you want to picnic on the ground –  better not go to a park.
  • Ride your bicycle. There’s a flat prohibition: “No Bicycles.” If you were one of the bike-rider volunteers who thought you were building trails that you and your family could use – nope.
  • Off leash dogs. Doesn’t matter if they’re well-behaved or that dogs need a place to run around. Not here.
  • Climb trees. If your kid wants to clamber up a tree that looks made for climbing – well, we have climbing structures for that.
  • Tie a swing on a tree.Affixing items to trees is prohibited.” The only tree-swing SFRPD is okay with is on their logo.
  • Pick flowers or mushrooms or interesting leaves. “Gathering vegetation is prohibited.”
park with non-native tree and off-trail recreation

Prohibited activity – picnic

ALIENATING OUR KIDS FROM NATURE

muddy kid

Not permitted

We’re sympathetic with the bike-riders who put in all those volunteer hours and now have been evicted from the trails. But we’re even more concerned about the kids (who may also be bike-riders).

Most kids don’t like hiking along a trail and just looking at stuff. If we want them to enjoy the outdoors and care about the parks, they need to explore. How many of us got hooked on nature climbing trees, chasing butterflies, wading in ponds or streams or puddles, picking flowers, throwing rocks into streams, feeding ducks and other birds, building forts, tying swings to trees?

All these activities are prohibited.

Those little screens everyone complains kids are hooked on these days? They have one major advantage over our parks – you can interact with them.

If you have a car and can drive out to actual wild lands – or if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard with a tree the kids can climb, and can put out a bird-feeder at home – you can provide your kids with some of these experiences. If you live in an apartment, these parks are your backyard. And you can’t do any of these things.

Tree 22 with kids

They’re not allowed. And this tree has been cut down.

You can’t say, “Let’s go to Stow Lake and feed the ducks” – that’s prohibited. You can say, “Let’s go to Stow Lake and look at the ducks” but first, that’s a lot less appealing to a child, and second, once feeding stops, all you see are not-very-many birds swimming along at a distance. In some cultures, feeding ducks and fish and turtles has a significance beyond just bonding with animals… but too bad.

There are thousands of kids in our city who are learning that parks are mostly about not being allowed to do anything interesting.

notice satire

Satire that’s dangerously close to the truth