EL CERRITO -- Environmentalists, history buffs, hikers, mountain bikers and many others in between will have an opportunity to receive a multi-faceted introduction to the attractions of the Hillside Natural Area at an event on May 17.

The first Hillside Festival will showcase the 90-acre preserve in the El Cerrito hills with guided hikes along its miles of trials, and presentations about native plants and El Cerrito history.

The festival is sponsored by the El Cerrito Trail Trekkers hiking club, the Friends of Five Creeks, the city's Environmental Quality and Parks and Recreation committees and other groups.

Some of the scheduled events and attractions include:

  • A beginner-level plant walk about native plants in the natural area led by Janet Gawthorp of the California Native Plant Society that will begin at the El Cerrito recycling center at the end of Schmidt Lane at 10:15 a.m.

  • A walk led by former Mayor Rich Bartke, who will share insights into how the city's park system was developed. The walk will begin at the Schmidt Lane trailhead near the recycling center at 10:30 a.m.

  • Talks on El Cerrito's history from the El Cerrito Historical Society, including a presentation on "Early California Indian Life in El Cerrito" by Berkeley historian and author Richard Schwartz. Schwartz's talk, describing the very early days of El Cerrito before the arrival of Spanish colonists, will begin at 11 a.m. on the southernmost trailhead on Regency Court.

  • A "pop-up" bicycle park, sponsored by the El Cerrito High School mountain biking team at the end of Snowden Avenue. Team coach Gary Hill will offer clinics and basic to advanced mountain bike riding instruction.

    "If (the festival) comes off well, which I think it will, I will propose to the Environmental Quality Committee that it be done annually," said Trail Trekkers President Dave Weinstein.

    Some of the festival sponsors are raising money to purchase a 7.6-acre tract between the northern and southern portions of the hillside area, known as the Madera property. The land is located off Arlington Boulevard immediately west of Madera Circle.

    The San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land acquired the property from a private owner in August and is holding it until December to allow time for private fundraising and grant applications by the city to purchase it.

    About $40,000 in private donations have been pledged or are in hand out of a goal of $100,000 toward the $475,000 cost of the land, according to Vickie Nolan, head of the fundraising committee.

    "The overall mission is to ensure that El Cerrito remains a vibrant, distinctive community with things here in town that make living here great and that make the town different from other places," Weinstein said.

    For more information and a complete schedule of festival activities, go to ectrailtrekkers.wordpress.com.

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