Glen Canyon’s Full of Stairs

glen canyon steps - copyright tony holiday

One of the many new staircases in Glen Canyon

The ‘Trails’ project, used as an excuse to remove over 30 trees, is well under way in Glen Canyon. The hillside is getting covered with staircases. Earlier, there were gradual sloped trails, punctuated with short sections of shallow steps. Now, there are wooden box steps, installed at considerable expense, supposed to make access easier.

If you happen to be one of the lucky people with a lot of stamina and a stride that matches the pitch of the steps, that may actually be true. But people we spoke to find they’re tiring and hard on the knees. Instead of being able to determine your own step length, it’s determined for you by the staircases.

As someone said as a comment on the website on an article about Glen Canyon:

‘The Escher print is EXACTLY how all those stairs in Glen Canyon strike me. EVERYONE is complaining about them: that all those stairs hurt their knees, or that it’s so much more difficult to walk now, that the magical “wild” has been too tamed, that it no longer is a natural place, but a gardened place with sidewalks. Those who don’t seem to mind all the stairs are young folks who run with earphones plugged into their ears, oblivious to everything that’s around them — they use the park as their outdoor “stair master” checking their timings on their iPhones at the top of the stairs. Even some of the construction workers told me that the number of stairs was “crazy” — that it was obvious that RPD had “money to burn”.’

Here’s the article ‘Glen Canyon with Stairs and Coyote’ from the website, being republished here.


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


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.


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.


Trail Missteps in Glen Canyon

Trail work has been racing ahead in Glen Canyon. Today, we were visiting the area just below the Christopher Playground.  There’s a new trail now. (Number 2 in the picture below.) It runs above a shallow drainage channel (Number 3) and the trail that runs along it (4), which will presumably be closed since the two trails connect the same points.  Another shallow drainage channel (1) that carried rainwater run-off into Islais Creek – and also functioned as a trail –  is being closed and planted over.

trails work in Glen Canyon 2

Except. There’s a reason that the drainage channels exist. And a reason the trail was on the downhill side of the channel. Channel 3 caught the water running off the hill and kept trail 4 dry on rainy days.

The new trail has got seeps all along it, making it muddy even on a dry day like yesterday. It’s catching the same runoff, but it’s not a channel. It looks like this.

seeps and mud on new trail

The drainage channel – shrouded in black net for some unknown reason – is full of standing water.

old drainage canal with water

We have no idea what it’s doing to the stability of the hillside, but luckily there are no homes in that vicinity. We hope the blocking of the drainage channel (1) isn’t having a negative impact, but we won’t know until a year of heavy winter rains. Where will the water go then? Wherever it wants.

Here’s what the drainage channel and path looked like three years ago, in February 2011. We can’t see what was objectionable about it and required a new trail that essentially connected the same points.

drainage channel and path Feb 2011

Here’s what the whole scene looked like in February 2011.

Same scene in Feb 2011There’s been another change, too; some trees that screened the homes next to the Canyon have been removed (5), giving it a more urban feeling (and probably improving the views for the homes there).

trails work in Glen Canyon 2

What’s next?  Here’s the plan for all the trail work in Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon Trails Project

And once the Trails project is over, next up will be “Urban Forestry” and more tree removal. Glen Canyon is being “Improved.”

Sad Death of a Glen Park Barn Owl

dead barn owl

A year ago, one of Glen Canyon’s Great Horned Owls was found dead – poisoned by eating rats that had eaten rat poison.

Now another  dead owl has been found. It’s a barn owl this time. Neighbors want to find out if the cause of death was rodenticide poisons again. They have taken the owl to WildCare – a not-for-profit wildlife rescue organization – for coordination of a necropsy (i.e, an animal autopsy) and toxicology report. They do not have funding to test animals brought in dead by the public and the fees must be paid for by the interested parties. The cost is anticipated to be around $300. Your assistance to help defray the cost would be appreciated.

Edited to Add: The money was raised, the necropsy was performed. Our suspicions proved true. It was rat poison. Read here for details: Rat poison killed the Glen Park owl.

If you’re willing to contribute,  please reference “Barn Owl Patient #1754.”

  • Via phone, please contact WildCare’s Stewardship Manager, Jan Armstrong, 415-453-1000, ext. 13,
  • Online,, where there’s a link to donate by credit card
  • Send a check directly to WildCare, 76 Albert Park Lane, San Rafael, CA 94901.

There’s an important effort going on to limit the use of the most dangerous rat poisons. You may read about WildCare’s Rodenticide Diagnostics & Advocacy Program on their website. If you have additional questions about rodenticides, you may contact Wildlife Solutions Manager, Kelle Kacmarcik who is coordinating this effort at 415-456-7283, ext. 23.

Canyon Disappointments – by Tony Holiday

Tony Holiday is a trekker and blogger based in San Francisco. He recently re-visited Glen Canyon, and was disappointed with the destruction he saw there. This post is re-published (with minor edits) from his blog, Stairways are Heaven . Visit his blog for more pictures, and more trails reports from all over San Francisco. (An earlier trek through Glen Canyon – before most of the destruction along the trail – is described HERE.)

Thirty-six steps descend into Glen Canyon Park from Elk, the route recently taken for a south-to-north hike. The lower south part of the park is bare and depressing to look at with all that ongoing construction. Workers were also doing something up at the side of the guardrail where Diamond Heights Blvd. starts near Berkeley Way.

Disappointed to see that one of the big old trees on the main trail is now a stump. This is near a short set of wood steps leading up to one of the eastside trails. There are stumps and huge logs laying around.

Main trail, southeast side – stump

When one has grown used to the certain look of a uniquely wild park over many years, it’s difficult to get used to when people who should know better go to such extremes with their version of “park improvements.” Tree limbs have been chopped off all the way along the lower trail as one moves south to north.

“My” beloved northeast trail has seen some clearing too since I last visited. Now it’s easier (a bit too easy!) to navigate the lower trails. I liked it when it was overgrown and “hidden” and I had to crawl under tangles and branches to get to it. I’m now, however, able to look down at Islais Creek from this side of the trail.

Northeast trail – now see-through

Changed my mind a while back about thinking it’d be cool if this trail could be cleared out to Portola (and thus up to Twin Peaks Blvd. and into that park as a continuation) because those in charge don’t seem to know when to quit.

Was naively hoping for minimal clearing, no tree-felling, and a pedestrian skyway over busy Portola (yeah, right), as in just enough space for hikers to navigate without being chewed up alive by brambles, but hopefully leaving the across-the-trail tree limbs alone.

Instead of concentrating on eliminating trees alongside the trail, why not construct more skyways across curvy, dangerous-to-cross streets like O’Shaughnessy, Clarendon, and Portola, to name a few, so one can move easily and safely from one greenspace to another. They’re spending taxpayers’ money on the wrong things.

Thought they did a good job with the new Twin Peaks trail up from Portola, but so far am not impressed with the so-called “improvements” in the lower Canyon. Alongside the extended stairway on the south side of the popular climbing rocks (ascends from the lower trail near the fence and boardwalk), there’s still that ugleee black fencing. Take it down already!

Greenery – and ugly black fencing

The picture below is the newer stairway on the north side of these rocks; love this one.

New staircase

At least now there are still some tree limbs to climb over on the extreme northside trail, but who knows how long this’ll last. Wish they’d stop trying to eliminate the remaining bits of wildness in our urban parks. Canyons are supposed to be “wild.”

After viewing the mess they’ve made so far, I now hope this north end stays tangled and up-and-back after all, and I’m sure the resident wildlife will back me up on this. And not every trail on earth needs to be bike-friendly. The trail still, fortunately, doesn’t go much past the school playing field gate.

School playing field gate

Noticed a pile of old clothes and an old chair in the area this time. A campsite back there too?

Chair in Glen Canyon

Both northernmost trailheads are easier to see now (pic 10) from the trail above.


Out of the park climbing to the shopping center, first up 13 steps to Turquoise Way (no street sign seen when you get to this first Diamond Heights street).

Out of the canyon into the Diamond Heights ‘hood

The stairway continues directly across the street to Amber: 65 steps total to this second street up from the Canyon, pic 12.


At Amber it’s a short walk (right turn), maybe a couple of blocks, to the next stairway up, Coralino (132 steps), that ascends to Cameo. Coralino is unnamed on the street but named and shown on Google Maps (maps).

Coralino to Cameo, 132 steps

Up Cameo to Duncan and the Little Red Hen community garden (last pic) at the Police Academy. The next street is Diamond Heights Blvd. (right turn) for the Diamond Heights Shopping Center and Christopher Park.

The Little Red Hen Community Garden, Diamond Heights, San Francisco

The Little Red Hen Community Garden, Diamond Heights

A Beautiful Canopied Alcove is Destroyed: Then and Now

Everyone we know is deeply upset at the continued defoliation of our park — especially the previously untouched wilderness areas. Here, one of our kids’ primary climbing trees has been removed. The trees in this alcove were not hazardous — they were a part of a network of trees along a trail that was unique. The gnarled and twisted trees added character, charm and sparkle to the park — they were part of a magical trail in a forest right in the center of San Francisco. It’s gone. Why?

The “log over the creek” along this trail is also going to be replaced with a boardwalk. At the planning meetings, everyone wanted the old fashioned log retained. It was so “Tom Sawyer”. How special that this park had this special place so unique to a city park.  At the planning meetings hadn’t we decided it could be simply widened by about a foot?

Why are we allowing Park and Rec to do this to our park? No one we’ve spoken to wants these extensive capital changes except for the people doing the work — of course they are getting paid or it.  But all we wanted was the trails fixed, not widened and altered with bigger and more stairs , and we wanted the existing trees and landscape retained.

300 more trees will be coming out. But it’s not just the trails and the trees which are being altered and removed. It’s also the underbrush and thickets that have always made this park into the natural wilderness that we all love — it serves as a habitat for our very special animal population. But the growth is more and more sparse these days with more and more growth removal, and what is left is bare dirt and sparse grasses. How can a handful of “nativists” have gained control of the plan for the park. Why aren’t the rest of us included in the plan?

Six Degrees of Separation: Nobel Prize, Glen Canyon

Recently, local historian Evelyn Rose gave a slide-show and talk at Glen Canyon about its history (and even prehistory).  One interesting piece involved … why Glen Canyon is connected to the Nobel Prize. (She also wrote a piece about it, some years ago. That’s HERE.)

1. Alfred Nobel, working with nitroglycerin in Sweden, invented Dynamite in the early 1860s.

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite

Alfred Nobel invented dynamite

2. He licensed it to Julius Bandmann of San Francisco, who incorporated the Giant Powder Company in 1867.

giant powder company

The Giant Powder Company was the first US company to make dynamite

3. The factory was built on land leased in Rock Gulch – as Glen Canyon was then known. This was the first American dynamite manufacture. 

... in Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco, where America’s first dynamite factory operated for a year

4.  The Giant Powder Company started manufacture in 1868, months before Nobel was granted patents for dynamite. (However, the factory didn’t last long at that site. It blew up one evening, 15 months later, and was restarted in the sand dunes of the Sunset district.)

Distributing dynamite

Distributing dynamite

5.  Alfred Nobel grew very wealthy from his invention.

Nobel grew very wealthy

Nobel grew very wealthy from his invention

6. He left his fortune for the establishment of the Nobel Prize.

A picture of the Nobel Prize medal

A picture of the Nobel Prize medal

No one knows quite where the factory was, but Evelyn Rose estimates that it was around where the Glen Park Recreation Center is now. At that time, Islais Creek was a rivulet, and carried a lot of water down to the Bay, and cattle grazed the hillsides of  the Gulch.


Evelyn Rose is a San Francisco history buff who maintains the Tramps of San Francisco website and blog.

Glen Park Rec Center: The Next Phase

Finally, the Glen Park Recreation Center is getting what the neighbors really wanted – a makeover for the old building. We attended a meeting held by SF Rec & Parks’ Capital Planning about this phase of the project. About 30 people came, including Supervisor Scott Wiener.

Glen Canyon Park Rec Center San Francisco

Glen Canyon Park Rec Center, San Francisco – West side


Why the project is needed:

1. The old building doesn’t have a front entrance, and isn’t integrated with its surroundings. The new building will do that: It will have a Significant Front Entrance.

2. It’s a historic building, and it’s old and run down. The bathrooms are on the floor below.

3. The auditorium’s stage has become dead space because it’s not really being used as an auditorium.

4. Needs have changed over the years, and a redesign will make the building more useful.

Karen Mauney Brodek made a slide presentation. That’s available HERE as a PDF: Glen-Canyon-Park-6-13-13-community-meeting-presentation


The San Francisco Forest Alliance made the following comments at the meeting, addressing not addressing the specifics of this plan, but more the process and decisions.

1)  The plans always focus on the building, but not on the trees and vegetation. People care about trees, and they have said their concerns were dismissed during the community process.

2) There’s a need for transparency. In Phase I, all through the community process, we were told that only about 10 trees would be removed. The project description said the project would be only in the recreational area of the Park. Instead, we found out only after the entire community process was over that first, about a third of the project was in the Natural Areas, and second, around 60 trees were being cut down and replaced with native vegetation.

3) There’s a need for cost-effectiveness. People have pointed out that Phase 1 won’t provide recreational values or aesthetic improvements commensurate with the costs. We hope this won’t be as much of an issue in the current project. We also hope that SF RPD actually does keep the Rec Center open; there have been cases where they did a grand renovation and then closed it down. JP Murphy is a poster child for that.


1)  Karen Mauney-Brodek said that there’s only one tree within the project envelope, and that’s being preserved. She said there were no plans to cut down trees for this project.

She left a loophole though; she said the landscaping hadn’t really been decided, and if there were changes, they would update us.

(This is in fact the kind of thing we find troubling: Trees are an afterthought.

Plans for preserving the trees must be built into the initial plans for these projects.)

2)  Scott Wiener said that the capital project people weren’t responsible for keeping the rec center open, but that SF RPD does its best to maintain programming in the face of their shrinking budget.  He also said that the capital projects come in on time and under budget.

(We understand the operational budget issue. But surely, it makes no sense to do a major reno if the club house is closed after that.

As to the under budget and on time part, yes, but that  isn’t quite what we were getting at.  We think that the structure of the first part of the project – the tennis courts, new playground, and Grand Entrance – have given little bang for the buck. Here’s an assessment from past President of SFForest Eric Miller:

“But what else are we getting for our $ millions?

  • Are we actually getting an extra tennis court? No.
  • Are all the tennis enthusiasts satisfied with the orientation of the new courts? No.
  • What about additional facilities – perhaps something like a couple of low-maintenance concrete outdoor racquetball courts – even half a basketball court? No.
  • An inspired design that preserved a few landmark old-growth park trees? Obviously, no.

But RPD did ensure we taxpayers purchased a native plant garden as part of the project and ensured all those pesky mature “non-native” trees were eliminated. I would wager that regular citizens, even those totally ambivalent about park trees, are likely to prioritize other uses for our taxes than fulfilling what amounts to a rather extreme native plant agenda…”

Even the new playground may not be as excellent as hoped – it will be larger, probably safer, but will it have better amenities? We don’t know. The steep staircase and bushes that lined its upper reaches were a magnet for adventure play, and we’re not sure whether the new playground will be merely a blander replica of every other playground in the city.

Meanwhile, the felling of 60 trees, and excavating and shoring up the hillside so the tennis court could be moved to create the Grand Entrance is hugely expensive. However, we are hopeful there will be less waste and bad design in this part of the Plan.)


The rebuilt Rec Center will have an expanded footprint.

  • A multi-purpose  room goes in where the playground used to be.
  • A class-room block is added onto the West side.
  • The auditorium and the gymnasium will be renovated.
  • The stage area will become an “active recreation space” possibly with a climbing wall.
  • A “Teaching Kitchen” will be added.
  • So will some new bathrooms. One set of bathrooms will be accessible from outside even if the Center is closed.
  • A Significant Front Entrance will be created, with a staffed “welcome desk.” This is NOT a receptionist, there’s no budget for one nor is there likely to be. The Plan was vague about who would sit at that desk, though someone said that would be the de facto office of the Director of the Rec Center. (The actual admin offices shown in the plan are for someone else – SFRPD employees of some kind. It wasn’t entirely clear.)
  • The fireplace, which is a historic feature, will be renovated (though not as a wood-burning fireplace) and the chimney stabilized by putting a concrete cylinder inside. There are no cost estimates for this.


The SFRPD essentially sought feedback on two rather similar options. (Clicking on the pictures makes a larger version come up.)

Plan 1

Plan 1 would have the kitchen next to the auditorium. The exterior bathrooms would  be between the new multipurpose room and a steep staircase. Someone pointed out this makes them isolated, not visible from the playground, and thus, potentially unsafe. This was seconded by someone who had taught pre-school, and felt the placement in Plan 2 was safer.

Plan 2, below, has the kitchen in the classroom block. It would have a somewhat larger footprint because the bleachers would be moved to an addition on the north side of the building to accommodate restrooms where the bleachers are now. This would have the disadvantage, someone pointed out, that people would have to walk across the court (and maybe through a game) to reach the bleachers.

Some people proposed a hybrid solution: Keep the bleachers where they are; have the interior toilets where they are in Plan 1; have the kitchen where it is in Plan 2; and the exterior toilets in Plan 2. This would leave the problem of where to put the two offices, but since they don’t seem to be directly associated with the management of the building, perhaps they could go at the end of the Multipurpose Room where the toilets in Plan 1 are.

Plan 2

While we have no problems with the entrance as its been planned (though we wonder about the “welcome desk” ) we do not think that the “entrance” that was created by killing trees to move the tennis courts justified that design. Had SFRPD been willing to accept the input of the many tree-lovers who are still mourning the significant trees removed for a concrete pathway, it would seem a better design could have been developed.