Take To The Hills (TTTH) began work to repair Berkeley’s long-neglected Derby Canyon trail in 2015. The Derby Canyon trail begins at the top of Dwight Way and switchbacks to Upper Dwight Way at Panoramic. Back before the work began the only way to get down the hillside behind Clark Kerr Campus safely was to sit and scoot. Social trails in the UC Berkeley open space ran straight down the steep hillside creating erosion gullies and the inevitable ever widening trail.
The idea for fixing the trail originated with Berkeley local Jim Rosenau. Jim’s mom lived on Panoramic during the disastrous fire of 1991 and evacuated by scrambling down the seriously rutted steep trail. Jim’s original intention was to make the trail useable for the less sure footed by installing ninety steps up the worst two sections. In a lucky confluence of volunteerism, the work was done in partnership with Berkeley Path Wanderer’s Association (BPWA). Once the first two sections were repaired it was clear that there were other trail safety issues that needed to be addressed. Repairs continued over the course of the following three winters with BPWA tools and know-how. The trail is now in a very walk-able state with over 300 treads and new switchbacks making for a pleasant if somewhat aerobic stroll into the hills. If the hills are calling, wander up Derby Canyon trail. From there you can you can take a short neighborhood hike or connect through the East West Trail to the Skyline Trail and on down Siesta Valley all the way to Orinda.
The hillsides of Derby Canyon are primarily grassland dominated by non-native annual grasses with patches of coastal scrub transitioning to mixed evergreen woodland vegetation closer to the creek. On the open slopes, priority invasive plant problems included dense swathes of Italian thistle where the soil is deep and in steeper stretches with thinner soil, nightmarish stands of French broom.
Enter Francesca Verdier, a recently retired energetic soul involved in trail work with BPWA and also volunteering regularly with the Glen Schneider on the Skyline Gardens project (skylinegardens.org). Francesca arrived in Derby Canyon with BPWA and worked on the paths until the siren call of the Italian thistle got her to jump off trail and unveil her thistle eradication super-power. Getting a handle on the thistle convinced Jim that invasive weed control could be done. That led Jim and Francesca to embark on a long-term plan to restore floristic diversity to Derby Canyon. Using the Skyline Gardens model of preventing non-native seed set by clearing undesirables and burning off the seedlings with vinegar spray remarkable progress has been made. With the help of Glen, a census of native plants was done. Sixty native plant species were identified, many particular to just one small area. Vast areas of Derby Canyon had either no native species or only a few species. Soap root, naked-stem buckwheat, and California poppy managed to persist in spite of the overwhelming load of wild oats and associates.
TTTH is now working to improve the density and diversity of the native seed bank. The approach is to first establish natives along the trails, where they can be enjoyed by the trail users and add desirable native seed to the mix. This winter the goal is to plant more than 1,200 native plants that have been grown by Oaktown Native Plant Nursery and by volunteers Sarah Bade and Jana Olson. Regular planting and weeding days are Tuesday and Saturday mornings from 9 to noon. To lend a helping hand contact Jim Rosenau at (510) 845-0106 or go to https://taketothehills.net/volunteer where you will also find descriptions of the more common natives and non-natives in Derby Canyon.
– Kristen Hopper with Francesca Verdier and Jim Rosenau