OAKLAND -- Answering the question of whether a natural environment park can exist within the confines of an urban area in the affirmative goes a long way toward understanding the goals behind Friends of the Montclair Railroad Trail.
This group of dedicated volunteers has taken on the challenge of maintaining, preserving and enhancing the 1.6-mile paved trail that runs behind Montclair Village. Their purpose is clear and their projects are plentiful, so now they'd like to put the word out and invite others to participate.
The Railroad Trail serves as a linear park, one that forms a conduit for walkers, joggers and bicyclists while, at the same time, preserves the history of the area. An Oakland city park, it's part of Shepard Canyon and the Sausal Creek watershed.
From access points behind McCaulous' parking structure or the La Salle garage, the trail passes through redwoods, manzanita and oak woodlands, taking users past the backyards of residences, to open grassy areas and a shaded woodland, all the way to Saroni Road. Benches along the route offer quiet spots to enjoy the view.
"It's a marvelous link for people to come from other neighborhoods and walk down to the Village," said Lin Barron, chairman of the vegetation committee. "It's an easy trail for families with strollers or kids on bikes."
Information placards along the route give a historical look at the trail's origin as a rail bed for the Northern Sacramento Railway,
"It used to take passengers down to the ferries before the bridge was built," Barron said. "You can still see a couple of cement bollards and cement buttresses on either side of Mountain Boulevard which were supports for the trestle that went across." Post-railroad community action was able to prevent Caltrans from turning the rail line into a multilane highway. Instead a "rails-to-trails" park was established that has become the focus of the organization and the subject of a historical hike on Sunday when local historian Dennis Evanosky will delight hikers with tales of the area.
Three years ago a group of residents, tired of seeing graffiti, litter and dog piles marring the area, decided to take over the stewardship of this unique park, pledging to preserve its natural setting and become its eyes and ears, keeping track of what was going on.
"We have four areas where we've outlined priorities and have proposed projects to address them," Barron said. "These include hardscape or public works, trail vegetation, wildfire prevention and trail etiquette."
Vegetation and wildfire management are addressed at monthly work days which take place the third Saturday of the month. Projects include removing rocks and mud in the rainy season and invasive plants throughout the rest of the year, mainly Scotch broom. Another project is sheet-mulching to suppress weed growth and plant a native meadow.
Though projects are many, the small group needs more community involvement to carry them out. The six-member board would like to see its number increase to 11, and though the group boasts 256 names on its mailing list, only 17 are currently members.
"We really need people who not only have energy but have expertise in the areas of leadership, marketing, outreach and community activities," Barron said. "We want to get nearby residents on board with how they can contribute to the fire safety of the trail."
For Barron, with her interest in native plants, having a house that borders the trail was an important selling point. She hopes others will rally behind the organization. "The people who are really interested and involved with the group are those who see how beautiful it is and what a value it is to the community," she said. "They're invested in making sure it stays that way."
For more information abut Friends of the Montclair Railroad Trail go to www.montclairrrtrail.org.
What: Monthly work party
When: 9-11 a.m., Aug. 18
Extra: A history tour of trail, 10 a.m. to noon, Sunday. Cost is $10. Meet behind the public parking garage at 6235 La Salle Ave.