History of Tilden and the TWHA, by Es Anderson, Part 1

[Note from Morris Older: This History of TWHA was written in 1993 by one of our founding members, Es Anderson, as a tribute to Lucille Arnon, another founding member. It first appeared in the TWHA newsletter in 1996.]

PART 1

A tribute to my friend Lucille Arnon:

Where else in the world could anyone find such wonderful riding hills, so close to cities full of millions of people, as we have here in the East Bay?


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We can ride along a ridge with views of the snowy High Sierra in the East and look out across the whole Bay Area below us to the Farallon Islands in the West. I remember once lying dreaming among the wildflowers beside this trail while my horse grazed, when one of our members in passing remarked, "Are we not lucky to be living in a picture postcard?”

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We can ride creekside trails bordered with sword ferns, through scented bay woods. We can ride through grassy meadows dotted with mariposa lilies, blue eyed grass and white forget-me-nots. Or through groves of shady eucalyptus, which at least provide nectar for the hummingbirds even if we fear their fire hazard potential. We can ride along chaparral trails bordered with the rare and endangered leatherwood and with the tassels of garrya hanging over our heads. We can stop and water our horses at man-made ponds where teal and bufflehead feed and maybe 100 Canadian geese will rise up honking as we canter by. I even once saw a snow goose amongst them. High above us soar the ever-watchful red-tail hawks.


There is a long tradition of pleasure riding in this area. One of the oldest members of our organization, Bertha Underhill, was over 90 when she told me how she used to hire a horse called Donnie from Mrs. McLay’s stables on Grove street and join the Maybeck kids for a ride. They would water their horse at the horse trough on the first block of University Avenue and go riding all over the Berkeley hills. This was about 1918. Mary Jefferds, who later served on the Board of Directors of the East Bay Regional Park District for many years, tells me how in the early 1930s she used to rent a horse called Snowball for $0.75 per hour from a stable just below the Arlington and ride up the trails past Spruce and Euclid into what was to become Tilden Park. She also reminisced on how when she was a student at Cal she once went to a Barn Dance at Alvarado Park riding with her date on a bicycle built for two.

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In Tilden and Wildcat Parks we have many miles of horse trails, and these parks are connected by trails to other parks. At one time California State Horseman’s Association used to sponsor a seven-day pleasure ride in a big loop from Mt Diablo through the East Bay hills and back. We camped at night beside our horses and were only on roads for less than a mile during the whole week. One night we were camped half a mile from my home, but it felt as if we were miles from anywhere as the coyotes yipped and howled in the distance and a great horned owl inquired "who? whoo?”

What we must never forget is the debt that we owe to the far-sighted people who loved all this open space and worked for parks and trails. Some of them are no longer with us, as my friend Lucille Arnon who was involved in the early planning of Tilden Park and later helped form the Tilden Wildcat Horseman’s Association. The first park map of Tilden includes a photo of her posing with a golf club on the site of the proposed golf course (she never played golf!) and another of her in a swim suit perched on a rock above what is now the Lake Anza swimming area.

Wildcat Park has a much shorter history than Tilden. For it we have to thank people such as Mary Leuba, Jean Siri, Barbara Vincent, and later Alan le Point who founded the Friends of Wildcat Park association. By ceaseless hard work and lobbying the Park District was persuaded to buy all the unstable land north of Tilden until it connected with Alvarado. The freeway that was to go to a big new housing development now goes to nowhere. I personally think one big mistake was made here when the parks took over Ranch el Siete, a small horse ranch owned by Lee Fowler since 1946. He gave riding lessons and boarded children’s horses. Surely this was a park-related activity that should have been encouraged. He introduced a whole generation of children to horses and his Saturday lessons were a Berkeley institution. Our family was lucky to be part of this and grow up here with the fun of trail rides, barbecues and sleepovers in the "Enchanted Forest.”

At one time trail users tended to have competing interests, which was counterproductive. Twenty-five years ago a group was formed including horsemen George Cadinet, Bruce Lee, Heber Brown and Norm Sims, hikers Bill King and Claude and Agnes Finch and Hulet Hornbeck from the EBRPD. This group called itself the East Bay Area Trails Council. I understand from Hulet that this was the first group of its kind in America. The aim was not only to develop new trails but also to work out trail compatibility. Lucille Arnon and I were invited to join. This organization has done a tremendous amount for trail users in our area and is still very active.

About twenty years ago enmity arose between some members of Park staff and horsemen. The horse trough in Tilden Park suddenly vanished and then overnight a number of "No Horse" signs appeared throughout our parks. We sat beside one of these signs for a weekend. In two days we collected 35 letters and 656 signatures from fellow trail riders and trail users who protested this unwarranted trail closure without any discussion or public hearings with the people involved. It seemed as if riders and horses were being accused of pushing hikers off trails, cutting up trails in wet weather, roping park signs to pull them down, crowding children off nature trails, eating native plants, galloping over lawns and swimming in Lake Anza! If this was true it certainly was not compatible trail use.

It was during this trail closure episode that I first met George Cardinet, generally known as the most influential horseman in California. He had heard about our trail problems and had brought his horse over for two days to see for himself and ride the old horse trails that he had helped to put in when Tilden first became a park. He also rode down and checked out the nearest horse barn. In a strong letter of protest to park staff he mentioned that he had found no roping saddles there, only a group of teenagers decorating a Christmas tree with carrots for their horses’ Christmas party. We have always been very grateful for his support.

An open hearing was called by a park staffer and was attended by several hundred horsemen. We were generously supported by the California State Horsemen’s Association as apparently the word had gone round that once the horses were out of Tilden and Wildcat it was only a matter of time before they were out of all parks. We were particularly indebted to our friend Heber Brown, a well known horseman and Oakland lawyer who had riden the East Bay hills since he came here in 1928. He acted as our spokesman and argued that 90% of the trails in Tilden had been closed to horses and illustrated his point with the district’s own maps. As he said, "We’re not interested in being shoved through the parks on main trails as though it were only a matter of getting from point A to point B. We want to get off the beaten track and enjoy the whole park experience.” As a result of this meeting all trails were thrown open to horses and all "No Horse” signs removed.

Soon after this a smaller meeting was arranged between representative of EBRPD, members of CSHA, Heber Brown, Bruce Lee, Norm Sims, Lucille Arnon and me. We agreed that it was not sensible to ride narrow fragile trails where one might meet large school groups, provided we could use the main loop trail around the Environmental Education Center. We agreed that these trails should be off-limits to horses. It was at this stage that Bruce Lee suggested we form ourselves into an organization, perhaps the Tilden Wildcat Horsemen’s Association to work with the parks in the future.

For many years we had about 60-70 members. We followed ‘Save the Bay’ by charging $1/year, as we thought that 60 members at $1/head had much more clout than 4 members at $15/head.

Over the years we have had numerous meetings with park staff, and hope we have convinced them that we are sensible park users. Recently Mary Jefferds stated that "from the perspective of over 18 years on the Park Board and living in Berkeley from before Tilden was started, the horsemen have been in the forefront of groups protecting the natural composition of Tilden and Wildcat Parks for future generations.” We have always tried to cooperate and only put forward what we consider to be reasonable requests. Over the years we have arranged numerous work parties. When park staff draw our attention to complaints about horses we try to help. I always remember Bruce Lee saying that if your horse’s hooves sank 1/2 inch into a trail you should not be on that trail. We agreed with staff that in damp weather horse should always ride on the inside uphill side of the trail, no matter which way they were going, so as to leave the outer edge, which might crumble under a horse’s weight, smooth for hikers and cyclists.

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When TWHA started, Wildcat Park barely existed and there were no maps available. Lucille and I had fun making our own trail map. We put the two parks together into a linear map and rode every inch of the valley. We always preferred to reopen new trails rather than to cut new ones. Sometimes from the opposite side of the valley old trails may be seen as an in growing of exotic broom. We also looked up nineteenth century maps of the area in Bancroft Library. We left out the contour lines as the two parks simply consist of two ridges with a valley in between and extra lines clutter things. Instead we drew in various landmarks that could be readily recognized such as the Merry-Go-Round, the Johnston’s tree plantation, the golf course, the wild iris meadows, and so on. Being an unofficial map we could include our own and local names. An example is the gate on Nimitz Way that we named "Jana’s Gate.” Once a foolish rider encouraged her horse over a cattle stop with disastrous results. Jana Olsen immediately took a truck and tools and went up and put in a horse gate beside the cattle guard. She was the EBRPD trails coordinator and was largely responsible for organizing the big work parties of several hundred people who put in the Skyline Trail to Redwood Park. Then we discovered that Debbie Young at Grizzly Peak Stables was a fine draftswoman and she made a
really professional copy of our map, which we gave to all our members. We were gratified when Donnie Hubbard asked our permission to copy our map in her "Favorite Trails” book. Since then Debbie has made many similar pictorial maps for Donnie’s other books.

TWHA History Part 2