Story and photos by Murray Schneider
While not exactly a stairway to heaven, the recently completed Beacon Trail is comprised of 74 steps, which ascend to Diamond Heights’ Walter Haas Playground from Upper Noe’s Beacon Street.
More about the opening here.
The latest addition to the Recreation and Park Department’s greenbelt mosaic of connector trails, such as the Creeks to Peaks Trail that meanders through Glen Canyon, the Beacon Trail wends its way from Billy Goat Hill, affording day trippers and dog walkers a safe and accessible recreational experience.
The completed project, made possible by the Open Space Fund Undesignated Contingency Reserve, connects the two paths with 680 feet of pathway, comprised of 560 feet of earthen trail and 120 feet of box steps, with assigned entrances and erosion control.
The project was celebrated on July 14 at a Walter Haas Playground ribbon cutting ceremony, attended by Rec and Park’s General Manager, Phil Ginsburg, and District 8 Supervisor, Scott Wiener, Rec and Park Commission members and dozens of neighbors.
“I want to thank our community for coming together to find solutions for connecting our parklands through a beautiful new trail,” said Ginsburg, introducing the afternoon’s three o’clock event. “This improvement project allows families increased access to the basketball courts at Walter Haas and the incredible trails and views from Billy Goat Hill.”
“I am thrilled that we’re increasing connectivity between or neighborhoods and our parks,” said Supervisor Wiener, after being introduced by Phil Ginsburg, who had earlier recognized Project Manager, Melinda Stockmann, and Natural Areas Program manager, Lisa Wayne, both of whom proved pivotal in envisioning and reaching consensus among neighborhood stakeholders.
“Prior to the construction,” Wiener would say later, “there was an unsanctioned trail that wasn’t particularly safe or environmentally friendly.”
Wiener referenced multiple “social” trails that hikers and off leash dogs had fashioned, sometimes by trampling vegetation that was important for area animals, birds and insects.
Taking the microphone from Ginsburg, Betsy Eddy, a member of Friends of Walter Haas Park, pointed to what used to pass for a scrabby trail that plummeted haphazardly down to Beacon Street.
“I only tried the old trail twice,” she said, smiling ruefully, “and that was by sliding down on the seat of my pants.”
“The new trail now connects us safely,” she said of the path that boasts a number of salutary switchbacks. “I especially want to thank neighbor Fred LaCosse and Lisa Wayne, who chaired several community meetings.”
Wayne is a recent 2014 recipient of a SPUR annual Good Government Award.
Former KRON newscaster, LaCosse, stood next to Ginsburg, Wiener and RPD Commission president Mark Buell. LaCosse lives on Beacon Street, and for years he has assisted the Natural Areas Program in maintaining and restoring park habitat. Recently, along with Lisa Wayne, he assisted as a planning and design facilitator, brokering compromises, nudging neighbors toward solutions that bridged Upper Noe privacy concerns with issues of community accessibility.
“I want to thank Fred,” said Mark Buell. “He helped us move people without violating neighborhood rights.”
“Rec and Park was sincere, particularly Lisa Wayne,” LaCosse said after the ceremony. His wife, former KRON broadcaster Terry Lowry, stood by his side.
With the full imprimatur of the Diamond Heights Community Association, the community-driven project addresses two key parts of Rec and Park’s strategic plan: Increasing interconnectivity on City parkland and maintaining San Francisco’s urban trail network while strengthening the quality of parks and facilities.
“People want connectivity,” said Wiener about the new trail he believes will support a healthy lifestyle and give residents an alternative to walking along paved roads.
Trails connect people to nature and serve as a place where they can walk safely and meet their neighbors, Ginsburg said before he led walkers along the new trail to Beacon street.
At a time when San Francisco residential property is at a premium, public spaces such as the Beacon Trail connector between Walter Haas Park and Billy Goat Hill are a conduit, one that contributes to community and lets us smell the flowers along the way.
“It’s a bit off the grid,” said Ginsburg, who will allocate man-hour resources to pushing back invasive Himalayan ivy threatening to encroach upon the path. “This trail connects us to nature; it connects us together.”
Who could argue with that?
Certainly not the two young women who parked their car on Beacon Street only two days later.
They weren’t Glen Park or Diamond Heights neighbors; in fact, both originally came from India. One now resided in Union City. The other, her friend, a visitor from Toronto, Canada.
They’d made Billy Goat Hill a destination.
They approached an elderly couple on their Saturday morning constitutional. Below them, down the steep hill, Laidley Street cut a picturesque swath, dead ending at 30th Street and heading toward the Harry Street steps.
“We’ve come to see the swing,” the East Bay resident announced.
Half way down the hill, the foursome stopped. The swing, an amusement highly unauthorized by Rec and Park, had been severed from its ropes, a common Rec and Park action to protect it against law suits. They now dangled in the air, acting as punctuation marks to a paragraph of dog walkers and hikers who’d accessed the hill.
Disappointed, the two out-of-towners accepted a consolation prize.
Past where the swing had hung Bernal Hill loomed large, a backdrop against Noe Valley that now glistened in the morning sunshine.
Fittingly, it wasn’t left for Phil Ginsburg to get in the last word about heavenly Billy Goat Hill views.
The young lady from Union City, taking it all in, simply whispered.