Glen Canyon Park: Nine Months after Tree Destruction

This article has been reprinted from the San Francisco Forest Alliance’s website.

Video update to the Glen Canyon Park tree demolition project

All these trees are gone

This tree is gone – the entire area is now bare ground. Click to see the 9-month update video.

San Francisco’s Wreck and Park Department is now calling this “The Glen Canyon Playground and Tennis Court Project“. This is only a continuation of the mis-information that have been provided as the Glen Canyon Park Improvement Plan (note: they are spending $5,800,000 of the 2008 Park Bond Fund for Glen Canyon “renovations”).

You will be seeing in this new video a bit more than just preparations for a new playground and 2 new tennis courts. The damage to Glen Canyon Park by the city is significant; we thought the project was the “removal and pruning of select trees”, but it is much more than that. And the wonderful children’s climbing tree is now gone; it once stood behind the Rec Center.

screen cap from Glen Park 9-month video

But San Francisco’s Rec & Park Department cuts down healthy and treasured trees.

Here is a reminder [Beginning of Glen Canyon Park tree destruction] of what was once there. On January 10, 2013 we reported on the start of this demolition project by the city. The grand eucalyptus trees at the Elk Rd entrance, over a century old, were quickly destroyed. Hundreds of other trees in the canyon, the ones the children love and climb in, the ones the birds nest in and bats hide in, the ones that feed the and protect the wildlife of this canyon – all will be gone by the time this project is completed next year.


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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?

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Last chance: See Glen Canyon’s Outback Trail before it’s Tamed

If you love the secret, twisty mysterious Outback Trail that runs along the west side of the creek in Glen Canyon, this would be a good time to see it. The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department is just about to start improving it, to make it the lower end of the “Creeks to Peaks” trail that will go up to Twin Peaks. It’s going to be a lot less adventurous experience – more like the existing trail on the other side of the creek. A lot of the branches that have to be climbed over or ducked under will be gone.

We think it’s a bit like widening and paving a narrow country road to make a 2-lane highway; it’ll be easier to use but a lot less charming.

For a story from the Glen Park News, which supports the changes, detailing what’s planned over the next 15 months, click HERE. (They call it, for some reason, the ‘Banana Slug Trail’ though we’ve always heard it called the Outback Trail or the Secret Trail.)

In brief:

  • Some 32 trees will be removed, including many of the twisty willows.
  • The trail will be regraded and compacted.
  • Retaining walls will be added on both sides of the trail (steel posts, plank walls)
  • A bridge across the creek, with concrete pylons, and railings.


We went by there at dusk recently. A lot of undergrowth has been cleared since we first visited it perhaps three years ago, making it much more exposed than before. Nevertheless,  it was magical.

through low tree tunnels

Trees arched right over the trail, which wound beside the creek. In some places, they looked almost like a maze.

spiral grove

This is the Darlene Tree; someone inscribed the name of their beloved on it.

daphne tree

twisty tree

This one’s called the Whomping Willow (Harry Potter fans will get the reference!). Sadly, it may be under threat of removal. SFRPD will try “heavy pruning” first. That probably means most of the trunks and branches will be gone even if some of the tree is left.

whomping willow

whomping willow sign

This is the Rainbow Tree, and it’s being removed.

rainbow tree

rainbow tree sign

This is the beam crossing the creek. It’s going to be replaced with a bridge with concrete pylons and a boardwalk.

beam bridge over the creek


Back in January 2012, when the San Francisco Forest Alliance first learned of the plan to remove nearly all the willows, we created a map of the trail and trees in an effort to save them. We think that SFRPD is actually trying to preserve some of these trees, though without the horizontal branches that give the path its character. In response to a query, Karen Mauney-Brodek said, “Please also note that we are attempting to prune rather than remove trees whenever possible and will have our contractor retain a taller than usual trunk for the “ticket tree” unless trunk decay is determined to be a hazard to children and trail users.”

The beloved quirky trees of Glen Canyon Park

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Glen Canyon Trails Project : 31 Trees Will be Cut in September

SF Recreation and Parks Department is stepping up the Trails project in Glen Canyon.

Glen Canyon Trails Project

By the time you read this, they may already have posted notices for removal of 31 trees that they say have been assessed as “Hazardous.” The trees can be removed any time from September 16, 2013.  If they follow the map above, the hidden trail with the twisty willow trees on the west side of the creek will be a wide path possibly with bicycle access.

Here, in part, is the letter they sent out to their list:

We will be presenting a contract to the Rec and Park Commission Capital Committee on September 4 for approval of award and plan to mobilize soon after full Commission on September 16 pending approval.Tomorrow, August 16, we will be posting 31 trees adjacent to the trails that have been assessed as hazardous and are slated for removal.

We are moving forward with posting trees as we would like for hazardous tree mitigation to be done before the end of the year to avoid disruption to nesting birds.

Please see attached for a sample of the tree removal notices that we’ll be posting.For more information and details, please visit the project page of our website.

Please contact me at any time with questions or suggestions.


Melinda Stockmann, Assistant Project Manager/ Community Gardens Program Manager

San Francisco Recreation & Park Department  | Capital Improvement DivisionCity & County of San Francisco  | 30 Van Ness Avenue, 5th FloorSan Francisco, CA 94102(415) 581.2548  |

The Following Message will be Posted on Trees to be Removed:
Glen Canyon Trails Improvement Project

Posting Date: 8/16/13

Notice of Tree Removal

This tree has been assessed as hazardous as part of the upcoming Trails Improvement Project at Glen Canyon Park, and is slated to be removed.   The project was vetted extensively through the community and includes trailside restoration planting.

For more information about the Glen Canyon Trails Improvement Project and the removal of hazardous trees, please visit our website at http : / / / project /glen-canyon-urban-trails-project /

and/or contact Project Manager Melinda Stockmann at 415-581-2548
Removal will not take place before September 16, 2013.

glen canyon park - how many of these trees will live

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Glen Canyon Park: What It Looks Like 6 Months After the Trees

It’s been over six months since the trees were felled between Elk Rd and the Glen Canyon Rec Center.  Here’s what it looks like now.


The destruction part took no time at all: An avenue of majestic century-old trees, a hillside habitat for birds and animals – including insect-eating bats –  a wild bee-colony,  Those were all gone in days.

The construction part is harder.

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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.

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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.

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