A new plaque on Upper Glendale traces the origins of the Berkeley Hills. Photo: Susan Schwartz.

By Sandy Friedland

The familiar green plaques that identify Berkeley’s landmark buildings and historic neighborhoods have some smart new siblings: interpretive plaques commemorating the city’s natural history. These new additions are intended to increase awareness of Berkeley’s geological features as well as its creeks, native plants, and first inhabitants.  The 12” by 18” plaques feature lovely botanical drawings by California naturalist and artist John Muir Laws and about 150 words of text.

The spark for the plaques was kindled nearly ten years ago when Berkeley Path Wanderers Association and Friends of Five Creeks jointly proposed — and the City Council endorsed — the creation of a “virtual trail” along Codornices Creek, from the Bay to the hills. Completion of the three segments that comprise Glendale Path, between 2004 and 2006, was a major step toward accomplishing that goal, and two of the first three natural history plaques now grace Glendale.

On Lower Glendale, which runs between Campus Drive and Queens Road, a “Creeks’ Cradle” plaque describes the origins of the creeks and springs. On Upper Glendale, which spans a hairpin curve on Fairlawn Drive, a “Berkeley Hills Geology” plaque traces the origins of the Berkeley Hills. And at Mortar Rock, another plaque explains how Native Americans wore the holes in the rock by grinding acorns with stone mortars.

Spearheading the Natural History Plaque Project is Susan Schwartz, president of Friends of Five Creeks and the first leader of BPWA’s path-building efforts. Her eyes light up when she talks about the “young” Berkeley hills that are still rising and the “little creeks that created amazingly large canyons”. She says the history plaques around Berkeley enhanced her experience of walking through Berkeley, and she thought they could be complemented with another chapter of Berkeley’s story.

“I wanted to add geologic time as well as to remind people of nature that too often is hidden by concrete,” says Schwartz. “Our lives become richer if we can understand the world around us.”

Financing for the Plaque Project came from the Oakland-based Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment and the UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund. Philip Krayna of Neuwirth Krayna Design, a Berkeley design firm, did the layouts for the plaques. Schwartz wrote the copy in collaboration with Doris Sloan, author of Geology of the San Francisco Bay Region, and Steve Edwards, who heads the East Bay Regional Park District Botanic Garden in Tilden.

A least two more plaques are planned, including one in the Claremont district that will explain the geology of the hills in South Berkeley and another in West Berkeley devoted to the origins of the flatlands. Schwartz welcomes ideas for other topics or locations for these delightful additions to Berkeley’s landscape. Email her at F5creeks@aol.com

First published in the newsletter of the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association.

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