A Sneak Peak at the Presidio’s Newest Trail

June 10, 2010

Editor’s Note: This story was only partially funded through the open-source journalism project If you like it, head over there and donate to the cause!

There’s no mistaking the signs of this year’s late spring in the Presidio, with California poppies, beach strawberries, and beautiful (but invasive) calla lilies appearing in increasing numbers every day.

But the Presidio is also experiencing a far more gradual and deliberate regrowth as well: that of its network of trails.

“It’s a really important part of the backbone of the park,” said Presidio Trust Associate Director Allison Stone. She was preparing to lead a guided tour of the brand new Park Trail last Saturday.

Still a work-in-progress, the nearly two-mile Park Trail winds from Crissy Field down past the horse stables and close to Park Boulevard, tracing the edge of the Presidio Golf Course before reaching Mountain Lake near the Richmond. So far, about a third of the trail is complete, with the northern remainder to be finished once Doyle Drive construction is done in 2013. 

It might not be quite accurate to say that it has a “new trail smell,” but the Park Trail is unmistakably fresh. The railings on a viewing platform are clean and unworn; the path is smooth and wide; and a short wooden footbridge looks as though it was installed just yesterday.

But Presidio wildlife has been quick to take to the new landscaping, and plants have immediately filled in along the side of the trail to provide habitat to local animals. During Saturday’s guided tour, an owl was spotted guarding a nest as hikers passed her tree.

The Park Trail is a prime location for spotting wildlife, a fact celebrated by the brand new Presidio Habitats art project. There are two installations along the trail: a habitat sculpture resembling a wooden pyramid with a gray fox-friendly entryway in the shape of the word “fox,” and the lovely “Winged Wisdom” which stuffs nesting-quality hay into giant floating metal aphorisms between the trees.

Saturday’s tour didn’t just stick to the Park Trail, and instead took a few detours to visit the Presidio Nursery, a community garden, and a redwood replanting. 

Surrounded by bright green young redwoods, Presidio Forestry Manager Peter Ehrlich explained an interesting conflict between historic and biological considerations. When the trees were planted in the 1800s, they were placed in tight military rows; arborists must now choose between maintaining that unusual planting pattern or switching to a healthier, less dense formation.

Amy Explains
Amy Deck of the Presidio Trust explains how the park’s newest trail was build to accommodate both bicycles and wheelchairs. Photo by Matt Baume.

The Park Trail faced a similarly difficult decision, according to Amy Deck, project manager for trails. Although trail plans called for a bike-accessible path, the incline of the land required frequent switchbacks to ensure access for the disabled. In turn, the sharp angles of those switchbacks proved difficult for bikes to navigate. The solution: a separate bike path that follows Park Boulevard.

Hikers may wish to venture off the Park Trail now and then to visit some lesser-known attractions. Slightly to the west of the trail lies the Presidio Nursery; and in a ravine alongside the nursery, unassuming Dragonfly Creek, nearly invisible in dry weather beneath feathery horsetail. Up on a ridge, a 1930s-era Works Projects Administration wall provides a beautiful view of the ravine, of the nursery, and of a bat house high on a pole.

Walk a few minutes farther west and you’ll find yourself at a hidden community garden, tucked inside the “elbow” of Hitchcock Street. Recent excavation unearthed a previously unknown paved walkway and benches, ideal for a secluded picnic.

Presidio trail-walkers have their work cut out for them: currently, the Presidio boasts 14 miles of finished trails, with plans to complete ten more miles over the next few years. The Presidio Trust is also planning to double the number of scenic overlooks, from four to eight.

Just ten years ago, the biggest construction effort in the Presidio was the demolition of the abandoned Letterman Hospital. Today, the park is all about restoration, growth, and ensuring a verdant future than can be enjoyed by all.

Editor’s Note: This story was only partially funded through the open-source journalism project If you like it, head over there and donate to the cause!

About the Author

Writer and phtographer Matt Baume has years of experience reporting on city infrastructure, urbanecology, and the environment in San Francisco. In that time, he'sfocused closely on the evolution of the Presidio. See more of his work at

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