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Garber Park: A Natural Treasure Restored

On the south slope of Claremont Canyon above the Claremont Hotel, lies one of the best-kept secrets in the Berkeley-Oakland Hills: Garber Park. This 13-acre City of Oakland wildland park has significant stands of big leaf maple, California buckeyes, regenerating coast live oak, and the typical understory found in woodland forests. Harwood Creek meanders through it in winter and spring.

 The trails throughout Garber Park are clearly marked with attractive wooden signs.

The trails throughout Garber Park are clearly marked with attractive wooden signs.

Thanks to new trail markers and an informative new brochure, more people soon may be exploring the one mile of trails in this small jewel of a preserve. The illustrated brochure features an easy-to-read map that highlights nine points of interest along a self-guided hike.

Those who prefer a guided introduction to the park and its surroundings may join BPWA and the Garber Park Stewards for a walk on Sunday, March 18, at 10 a.m. 

Visitors can access the park between dawn and dusk from trailheads on Evergreen Lane, Alvarado Road, Rispin , and Claremont Avenue, the main entrance to the park and the only one with parking.

Garber Park is a perfect destination for a nature hike with young children. For older, more adventurous hikers, the park can add an unpaved, sylvan section to a more challenging route on nearby streets and stairways, including Eucalyptus Path with its 137 steep steps. 

The park also serves as “an ideal outdoor classroom,” notes Shelagh Brodersen, volunteer coordinator for the Garber Park Stewards. “You’ll find several ecosystems there, from riparian to meadow, as well as a variety of birds.

 These stairs run between the historic fireplace to the park entrance on Evergreen Lane.

These stairs run between the historic fireplace to the park entrance on Evergreen Lane.

Training Ground for Habitat Restoration

  Lech Naumovich, executive director of Golden Hour Restoration Institute, a non-profit organization that supports and promotes habitat renewal and stewardship projects, uses Garber Park to train volunteers and ecology professionals. His popular hands-on winter workshops have focused on topics ranging from plant and fern identification to erosion control, sudden oak death, and fungi.The Stewards have been among his most enthusiastic students.

The group began in 2010 as energetic volunteers who wanted to reinvigorate Garber Park, reduce the risk of wildfires, and improve the trails. Over the years, they have hauled out mountains of trash and weeds; removed thickets of Himalayan blackberry, Cape ivy, and French broom to daylight creeks; and upgraded the trails for safety and enjoyment. Among their discoveries was a large stone fireplace and adjacent patio and a trail to Claremont Ave. 

Many of the Steward’s lofty goals have been realized, but they are not resting on their laurels. Shelagh continues to organize regular work parties to maintain and extend the group’s accomplishments. One recent project was the rebuilding of an eroded section of the bank of Harwood Creek. Visitors also will notice tiny blue “monitoring flags” scattered throughout the park that mark new plantings and seedlings that were discovered under the ivy.

A Park Rich in Local History

Local history buffs also will find Garber Park of interest. It is named after Judge John Garber (1833-1908), a prominent Bay Area attorney who once served on the Nevada Supreme Court. In 1879, He built a huge spired mansion near theproperty where the Claremont Hotel eventually would rise. His heirs sold part of the estate’s grounds to the city of Berkeley in 1920, stipulating that it should remain open space and be called John Garber Park. Before the Bay Bridgewas built, the park was a popular destination for family outings, picnics, and camping.

In 1952, Berkeley transferred ownership of the park and some nearby land to the city of Oakland. The park was not maintained, however, and fell into disuse. Many neighbors did not know it even existed; those who did rarely ventured into it. All that has changed thanks to the Steward’s efforts.

“Today neighbors are using the park's trails more and more,” Shelagh says, “both as short cuts and for recreation. People also know how important it is to keep the trails open for escape routes in case of an emergency.”

 Garber Park Stewards remove invasives to restore native plants in an area of the park called Fern Glen.

Garber Park Stewards remove invasives to restore native plants in an area of the park called Fern Glen.