Story and photos by Murray Schneider
After months of waiting, the long-anticipated Glen Canyon Park Improvement Project is only days from completion. Mayor Ed Lee will be on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, scheduled for Saturday March 15 at 9:30 A.M. San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg will welcome Supervisor Scott Wiener and neighbors to the official opening of our new park entrance.
Then children finally will be green-lighted to scramble over a play structure that could very well tax Tarzan.
“It’s called the ‘Explorer Dome,’ said Rec and Parks Karen Mauney-Brodek, speaking about the Glen Canyon Recreation playground centerpiece. “It’s made by Kompan, and it accompanies a belt swing set with four swings for older children and a tot swing set with four bucket swings for younger children.”
There’s also a slide, which will whisk kids down a gentle slope below the Sussex Street steps.
For kinetically challenged adults, there’s a lot to do, too, depending on how one defines recreation. “We’ve positioned three round picnic tables with benches, three rectangular picnic tables with benches,” said Mauney-Brodek, “and twelve benches without tables.”
There’s plenty of lighting after night falls, as well, so parents can keep an eye on their children. “There are 13 new pedestrian pole lights and 26 recessed accent wall/step lights,” said Mauney-Brodek.
The Glen Canyon Park Improvement Project took years planning. It was vetted through 12 public meetings between December 2010 and the summer of 2012, and funded by a 2008 $5.8 million Clean and Safe Neighborhood Park Bond.
The bond paid for a sculpted automobile drop-off on Elk Street so parents and guardians can safely drop off their children. Additionally, now playground directors will enjoy better sightlines, enabling them to watch children approach the ADA accessible gymnasium, which opened with new heating on January 7.
“It’s exciting that the neighborhood is getting its recreational facilities back and with significant improvements,” said District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. “The playground and tennis courts have been upgraded, and the entrance to the park from Elk Street will be much safer and more welcoming.”
Valued by users as a wild refuge in the middle of the City, Glen Canyon’s 70 acres is rich in recorded history, which stretches back to the 1850s. It has witnessed a myriad of uses from Adolph Sutro’s personal Gum Tree Ranch to the Crocker Real Estate Company’s mini-amusement park to a dynamite plant, even to an earthquake refugee camp.
Not until 1992, however, did the park come into its current state as an official public recreation site operated and maintained by the RPD.
“Glen Canyon serves a diverse population, meeting the needs of a majority of its users,” said Connie Chan, Recreation and Parks Deputy Director of Public Affairs about an area that includes Silver Tree Day Camp, two softball diamonds, a WPA-built gymnasium, numerous hiking trails, naturally forested slopes, native chert outcroppings and California wildflowers.
Rec and Parks has only limited resources to meet all of these needs.
Kimberly Kiefer, Deputy Director of Recreation and Parks Volunteer Services, knows how shortfalls can be bridged.
One month before the scheduled March 15 celebration, she watched the work-in-progress playground take shape. On February 12, she sat at a picnic bench on the safe side of the cyclone fence that forbade her from crossing the construction zone. She looked at some of the 163 trees that would eventually replace, at a nearly 3-1 ratio, the 52 hazardous or structurally defective trees removed to make room for the playground.
She’s familiar with the scores of private citizens needed to maintain San Francisco’s vast park system, volunteers Jake Sigg, a retired City gardener and a past president of the San Francisco chapter of the California Native Plant Society, describes as neighbors who “spend time maintaining the land by hand.”
“We have thousands of volunteers who bring all sorts of skill sets to our parks,” said Kiefer, who graduated from University of Santa Barbara in 2002 and spent eight seasons at Yosemite National Park. “Whether it’s an interest in arts and craft, softball or natural areas, our volunteers give back to their community.”
Kiefer took a moment to observe elementary school children on a canyon field trip, led by a Rec and Parks Youth Stewardship Program intern. The young woman consulted her curriculum guide and served up tutorials to students about restoration ecology near Islais Creek.
“It’s about educating and engaging the next generation, getting them involved, teaching them to value this space as a multi-use park,” Kiefer said. “Once you understand something you gain a new appreciation of it.”
Gloria Koch, who retired as a City gardener and supervisor after 27 years and now volunteers each Wednesday with Friends of Glen Canyon Park, is no stranger to renewing habitat diversity. Living on Diamond Street, Koch walks Glen Canyon hillsides on a regular basis.
“It’s important to see wildflowers as they once were and to understand how native plants co-evolved with canyon fauna,” she said, “and how such relationships are often host specific.”
“Glen Canyon is like a teaching palette,” continued Koch. “We get so much bang for our buck here with its co-evolving eco-system services.”
Another park user, Kathleen Kelley has lived on Joost Street for 30-years and walks her nine-year old dog, Luna, through the canyon each day. Like Koch, she’s a retired San Francisco Rec and Parks gardener, having worked for 25 years until she retired in 2006.
“I like the way the project introduced additional coastal redwood and oak trees,” she said. “The redwood is a strong tree, good for surrounding trees because it doesn’t fall over, and the coastal oak provides acorn and nectar sustenance for squirrels and humming birds.”
Kimberly Kiefer interjected: “Once volunteers contribute on an operational level they let their guard down, and it’s no longer ‘native’ versus ‘non-native,’ but how can we become part of a solution not part of a problem.”
Six nearby trees earlier had been removed to create the new playground, and their extraction from the Elk Street slope wasn’t without controversy. Newly-planted drought tolerant trees and shrubs now blanket the hillside.
“We planted thousands of shrubs such plants as coffeeberry, Manzanita and Kangaroo Paw,” said Karen Mauney-Brodek of Rec and Parks Capital Division. “We also planted many herbaceous plants such as California poppy, Douglas iris, as well as ornamental grasses.”
“It’s about both stewardship and engagement,” added Kimberly Kiefer, always eager to recruit new volunteers. “Habitat restoration is the key as it both provides education and work opportunities.”
There’ll be plenty of restoration work for any volunteer who steps forward.
“The project planners added snap valves, which facilitate watering,” said Kathleen Kelley, with an experienced gardener’s eye. “During the first year it’s essential the trees and shrubs get watered.”
Lisa Wayne, Director of the Rec and Parks Natural Areas Program, receives a SPUR Good Government Award on March 11 for leading San Francisco’s initiative to effectively manage and care for its 32 designated Natural Areas. She helped to develop the city’s Significant Natural Resource Areas Management Plan, which speaks to restoration ecology.
“While the playground amenities enrich humans, the hillside above it has been planted with habitat-friendly coast live oak and California lilac,” Wayne said, after making one of many visits to the site in preparation for its March 15 debut. “Each will enhance the lives of the birds and butterflies that also call the city their home.”
The oak and lilac have plenty of company, sharing the slope with an assortment of Islias cherry, Pacific dogwood, and Madrone upon which canyon fauna can feast.
“I think the project integrates active recreation such as the new tennis court with wildlife habitat enhancement,” concluded Wayne.
Gearing up for his March 15 public address, Scott Wiener gets the final word.
“Glen Canyon is one of San Francisco’s treasures, and its recreational facilities will now be as great as the park as a whole,” said Wiener. “We still have work to do on the recreation center itself – and that work will happen next year thanks to the passage of 2012 parks bond – but the completion of the current project is a huge step forward.”
In other words, let the games begin.
Actually, Oskar Rosas, Glen Canyon Playground Director, fittingly gets in the last words. “We’re really excited!”
Anyone who would like to volunteer in the new and improved Glen Park Recreation Center can contact Kimberly Kiefer at email@example.com. Also, Jean Conner of Friends of Glen Canyon Park can be called at 415-584-8576 for additional opportunities to volunteer. Oskar Rosas oversees many youth and children programs at the Recreation Center. For information, Oskar can be contacted at 415-337-4705 or firstname.lastname@example.org