BERKELEY -- After a friendly chat with teens climbing a chunk of stone in North Berkeley's Remillard Park, Jacque Ensign firmly grabbed her two walking sticks and strode confidently to a narrow pathway in a thicket at the park's edge.

Winding through stately redwood trees and blackberry bushes, Keeler Path took her up and down stairs and onto Sterling Avenue, where another hidden path emerged a few yards away.

Standing at the top of the Sterling Path staircase, Ensign took in the view of Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay beyond, and savored a moment of satisfaction.

Well into her 80s, Ensign is no shrinking violet when it comes to exploring the Berkeley trails she helped put onto the map -- literally.

Pinnacle Path in North Berkeley is one of the city’s many hidden pathways connecting streets and giving pedestrians shortcuts up and down hills. The
Pinnacle Path in North Berkeley is one of the city's many hidden pathways connecting streets and giving pedestrians shortcuts up and down hills. The paths are maintained by the Berkeley Path Wanders Association.

A founder of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, Ensign is one of four women who set out in 1998 to create a now-beloved map of the city's pedestrian pathways.

Now in its sixth printing with more than 25,000 copies sold, the maps are popular among longtime residents and newcomers seeking to know more about the town, its natural beauty and neighborhoods.

Ensign is proud of the map and knows many of the trails intimately, like old friends.

The basement of her North Berkeley home serves as a casual storage spot for maps and other materials that she and other association members sell in stores, at Tilden Regional Park and at functions such as the Solano Stroll.


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Made out of durable material, the map is an easy-to-use-guide to finding the pedestrian trails that lay across the city's landscapes like necklaces.

Running up and down Berkeley hills, Keeler and Sterling paths are two of the many passageways into Berkeley's natural beauty.

They also provide easy ways to explore a neighborhood and climb up and down grades without using streets.

The paths, some named after poets and novelists, date back to Berkeley's earliest days. Today, the city-owned paths are maintained and repaired by the organization Ensign helped found and nurture.

Neighborhoods often add their own touches of beauty, such as a colorful mosaic wall along Pinnacle Path.

"I walked these paths as a kid," said Ensign, a Berkeley native who served as the association's president for six years.

"I went away and came back and wanted to walk them again."

All told there are 136 pathways on the city's books, but 25 of them have not yet been completed. On the maps, unbuilt paths are marked by dashed lines while black lines show completed ones.

Association volunteers tackle the building of paths continuously, completing about one a year, explained past association President Colleen Neff. Work parties recently completed Halkin and Tilden paths and are working on others.

All the paths derive from original city plans to provide shortcuts and connect pedestrians easily to streetcar stops, business centers and other places of activity, Ensign said.

The original intention was to reject a traditional street grid framework and lay out streets and homes along the hills' natural contours without using a lot of cut-and-fill.

But, as the decades passed, it became clear that more work was needed on the paths, including a basic understanding on where they were all located, Ensign said.

Newly retired from her career in social work at the time, Ensign joined association co-founders Eleanor Gibson, Ruth Moskovitz, and Pat DeVito to tackle the job.

Neff, who lives a few houses down the street from Ensign, got involved several years ago.

She now helps organize and lead a regular schedule of popular guided walks.

"She was one of the original founders," Neff said of Ensign.

"So, without Jacque there would have been no group" and no map.

The work to create the map was not easy but it was satisfying, Ensign said. The project involved working with city officials and surveyors.

Each path had a number but many had no names. Some consisted of well-used stairways, but other passages were impassable, she said.

Neff said firefighters often kept them in mind for possible escape routes during disasters, a concern that came to the fore following the 1991 Oakland hills fire.

As the group grew, members held monthly meetings, took regular walks, and began putting out a regular newsletter that continues today.

Members also began giving the numbered paths regular names, many corresponding to street names for easy reference, Ensign said.

For example, Poppy Path leads off Poppy Lane, and then provides a connection between Keeler and Miller avenues.

Billie Jean Path is named after one of Ensign's former high school classmates. Her father, Joe Harris, ran the popular House of Harris men's clothing store in Berkeley.

"It was a lot of fun, but it was a full-time job, too," Ensign said.

The group printed 2,000 maps in its first edition, all which sold out almost immediately, she recalled.

More recently, Ensign and others have lobbied to have handrails installed on walkways, and many paths also have steps installed on dirt segments to make walking easier, particularly in rainy weather.

The regular guided group walks, some which Ensign leads, is one of the more popular aspect of the association.

An upcoming "All Berkeley Paths Walk" starts 7 a.m. Sept. 28 and will take walkers on every single path in the city, an all-day affair.

The group's Sept. 18 annual meeting, starting 7 p.m. at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., is open to the public and will focus on different aspects of the historic Anza Trail traveled by early Spanish explorers. A corresponding guided walk of the trail follows later in the month.

Ensign's recent "Coffee Constitutional" walk took participants into UC Berkeley's CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society), past Founders' Rock and into the California Memorial Stadium.

Walk leaders, she said, each lend their own personalities, citing local historian Paul Grundland, who leads excursions combining natural beauty with details about the city's past.

Ensign enjoys a good cup of coffee, so her walks tend to start at a Peet's Coffee & Tea location, or another coffee house.

Neff encourages those who would like to get involved to check out the Berkeley Path Wanders Association website at www.berkeleypaths.org, or take part in a guided walk.

Ensign also encouraged organization memberships, which help pay for the group's work, along with donations and other funding.

"It's a great way to get exercise and walking and talking is a really special way to get to know people," Neff said. "The social aspect of walking is just as important as the physical."

For Ensign's part, she said she's glad others have stepped up to lead the organization, though she still keeps her hand in.

After coming to know the paths so well on foot and on paper, Ensign said she'll continue to walk them, spotting birds and bits of natural treasures along the way.

Learn more
Learn more about Berkeley Path Wanderers, including upcoming outings and where to buy the group's map at berkeleypaths.org.
  • Berkeley Path Wanderers is hosting a Moonrise Kingdom and Sunset Splendor outing led by Kay Englund on Sept. 8 at the Nimitz Way trailhead at Inspiration Point on Wildcat Canyon Road in Tilden Regional Park. The event starts with a potluck picnic at 5 p.m., followed by the two-mile, leisurely walk on the paved trail to see the Supermoon rise and the sun set from a hill off the trail. The outing is child-friendly, but dogs are not allowed.
    For more details send an email to walks@berkeleypaths.org.
  • The group will have a table at the Solano Stroll near Ensenada Avenue from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 14.