New steps replace an old trail uphill from the UC Berkeley Clark Kerr campus. Photo: Steve Glaeser

After a small volunteer trail crew adopted it a few years ago, a well-used but previously unmaintained trail, just uphill from the Clark Kerr campus, has been discovered by many local hikers.

Located mostly within EBRPD’s Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, the trail climbs into the small Derby Creek watershed and links to the popular Stonewall-Panoramic trail. Take To The Hills, which was formed in 2014, gained permission from the landowners — who include UC Berkeley, East Bay Regional Park District and the City of Berkeley — to look after the trail.

Though never shown on EBRPD maps, scarcely maintained and likely never designed or authorized, the trail has long attracted both casual and experienced hikers seeking a quick workout, a nature fix and a fabulous view. The trail also serves as a link between Dwight Way and Panoramic Hill.

Despite its popularity, however, the trail was always hazardous and deeply eroded. The Claremont Canyon Conservancy (which also provided funds and expertise) included this Y-shaped trail on its map, though left it unnamed. Take To The Hills refers to it as the Derby Canyon Trail. Google Maps calls it the Clark Kerr Trail.

Starting from the top of lower Dwight Way, the trail begins with a big stair climb through an eucalyptus grove. Once you get above the trees, and climb past a graffiti-clad rock, the trail forks. The left fork, which has been rerouted around a steep, erosive slope, leads quickly to a meadow with dramatic views, and then on to upper Dwight Way. Panoramic Hill residents have always counted on it as an escape route, despite its rough condition.

Take To The Hills volunteers Jim Rosenau and Steve Glaeser. Photo: Jaz Zaitlin  

The right fork enters Derby Creek Canyon and is mostly level. It then passes through a native woodland of oaks, bays and redwoods. This section remains shady and cool all year. Long-used only by the adventurous, the entrances at either end were somewhat obscure until Take To The Hills began work on it at the end of 2016. Poison oak, log falls and slippery mud slopes challenged anyone who made the trip.

In addition to over 250 new stair treads, Take To The Hills has installed a bridge over Derby Creek, widened and leveled much of the trail, cleared storm-downed trees, controlled thistles, acacia and fire-prone French broom and installed erosion control measures. One intrepid and persistent crew member, Francesca Verdier, removed poison oak wherever it came near the trail. In the high meadow near upper Dwight and Panoramic Way they installed recycled redwood benches with views of the bay. Three Eagle Scouts have tackled sections of the trail, installing about 50 treads and another bench.

In response to all the improvements, trail usage surged. Now that it is relatively easy to traverse Derby Creek Canyon to and from the Stonewall-Panoramic Trail, many are making this woodsy connector part of their route. Though muddy in places, it is otherwise fit for hikers in sturdy shoes.

Take To The Hills was hatched at a trailside meeting in 2014 when this writer and Steve Glaeser first met to discuss what could be done about the failing stairs on UC’s land at the base of the trail. Because this trail is largely on UC and EBRPD land we immediately decided to create a new entity to conduct this project. Steve is the path builder for Berkeley Path Wanderers Association, which is dedicated to improving the public paths and opening unbuilt city paths. I am a local artist and long-time trail user.

Take To The Hills is an affiliate of Berkeley Partners for Parks which provides nonprofit status and liability insurance for volunteers. Take To The Hills has raised over $7,000, most of which went to pay for locally milled eucalyptus treads for the steeper trail sections. It is working to raise another $5,000 to cover existing commitments and to purchase native plant seeds and seedlings to restore vegetation along the trail edges.

Eagle Scouts tackled sections of the trail, installing about 50 treads and another bench.. Photo: Steve Glaeser

With the trail bed nearly completed, the project is focusing on native plant restoration, loosely following the model of Skyline Gardens which focuses on the Bay Area Ridge Trail east of Grizzly Peak Boulevard. There, volunteers have spent years enhancing and documenting native plants near the trail. Within Derby Canyon Take To The Hills has identified 65 native plants species, with many of these quite sparsely represented. In coming years it will introduce carefully selected species that thrive in similar conditions and continue to weed out non-natives to make room for natives to reproduce.

What’s most satisfying to the Take To The Hills trail crew is the delight and gratitude that hikers express for the overdue improvements. All seem to appreciate such a gem — one that is so close to home.