Restoration of Lands End Meeting Benchmarks

By KS Kyle

Planting season at Richmond District's Lands End began Dec. 6, marking the first anniversary of the Trails Forever initiative.

Once a dump site, Lands End has developed from an overgrown thicket, where hypodermic needles were discarded and safety was an issue, into expansive trails and native plant species, according to stewardship coordinator Caroline Christman.

Efforts to improve the Lands End district have struck a balance between maintaining the "cultural forest" of Monterey Cypress trees, which were planted during the early 1900s, and restoring the native species that cannot survive under the tree's canopy.

Fortunately, Christman says, brush plants tend to establish themselves quickly. Seedlings from last year's planting are already covering the slopes. Newly winding trails and paved trails in certain areas now provide access for wheelchairs and baby strollers. The number of visitors has steadily increased.

Lands End neighbor Bonnie Orendorff remembers when it was "so overgrown, raggedy, and really, really unkempt that it was some place you just didn't go."

The National Park Service (NPS) released the Sutro Historic District Comprehensive Design Plan and Environmental Assessment in 1993 after numerous public meetings. Recommendations were approved in a public process and it has been a slow, but thoughtful, implementation, says Erin Heimbinder, project manager for Trails Forever.

"It's really touching to see much more diversity in park users and wildlife," Christman says.

To her, success is a walker telling her: "Now I feel safe."

The NPS's Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (GGNPC,) a non-profit organization, developed a partnership to implement the Trails Forever initiative, which includes Lands End and four additional districts within the GGNRA.

Heimbinder says partnering the NPS with the GGNPC allows for more flexibility in hiring and procuring funds. The partners meet regularly to chart plans and progress and they hold quarterly public meetings. Yards of weed control fabric and erosion material are used to blanket areas at Lands End that haven't been planted yet.

Native plant restoration is challenging, especially during the first three years, Christman says.

"This (panic veldt) grass will be the death of me," she said.

Panic veldt grass (ehrharta erecta) chokes out all other vegetation and thrives under the fog drip from the trees. Perrenial and hardy, it is much more difficult to kill and has to be caught before it flowers. Christman says it will never be fully eradicated. A large share of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy work is weed control, mostly undertaken by volunteers.

Impressed with the changes and increased accessibility on the trails, Orendorff and her teen-age son decided to volunteer on Saturdays.

"I'm learning a lot about the native plants," she said. "It's like you're doing something worthwhile."

Seeds for new growth native plants are collected primarily from Fort Funston and nurtured at the Fort Funston nursery, also by volunteers.

The focus is on sustainability and locally-specific seed collection within the Lands End watershed, says Lands End Program Manager Monica Stafford.

The watershed includes Fort Funston and the western half of the Presidio. Native plants such as the yellow bush lupine, Christman explains, will bring song birds back to Lands End. She is especially proud of a recent sighting of the Bewick's Wren, rare to San Francisco.

Additionally, the GGNPC will begin experimenting with plants to attract butterflies. Clearing some of the Cypress trees has opened up the view. Previously, visitors "probably couldn't even see the ocean" from the trail, Stafford said.

Before the project began, Stafford hired four project information coordinators (PICs) to help explain the coming changes and take daily polls of park user satisfaction levels.

Wolfgang Schubert is PIC's public relations officer. He wants park users to get involved however they can, whether it's volunteering time or money.

The next benchmark for the Lands End project is the completion of construction at the Merrie Way parking lot on Point Lobos Avenue at El Camino del Mar.