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A river runs through us

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A river runs through us

Walking tour covers everything you always wanted to know about Strawberry Creek

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
Posted July 12, 2000

In 1772, a Spanish scientific team stopped to observe the grassy headlands of the Golden Gate from the banks of a creek named for the wild strawberries growing on its banks.

In the 208 years since that visit, Strawberry Creek has been diverted underground for much of its journey downhill to San Francisco Bay. But its north and south branches still meander through the Berkeley campus, providing habitat for bugs and fish and a place for humans to doze, jam or cram for tests.

Those interested in a more intimate knowledge of the creek are invited to take a 40-to-60-minute walking tour along its banks, using a newly revised guidebook, "Strawberry Creek: A Walking Tour of Campus Natural History."

Originally written in 1990, the second edition, released this year, provides eclectic and quirky information on everything from the Spaniards' visit to water bugs, bank stabilization techniques, historic bricks and sewage mishaps.

"The south fork of Strawberry Creek is world-renowned as a creek restoration success," according to Professor Vincent Resh, one of the creators of the walking tour and an expert in aquatic ecology.

By the 1980s, fish hadn't lived in Strawberry Creek in more than 50 years. A dirty foam malingered in its eddies. During home games at Memorial Stadium, sewage spilled into the creek from a damaged sewer line.

With tender loving care from campus experts, the creek made a comeback. Two species of native minnows now inhabit its waters. Techniques used to stabilize its banks have been widely imitated. And the anti-pollution sidewalk stencils first popularized at Berkeley ("Don't dump waste. Drains to creek") may now be seen in cities throughout the United States and Europe, Resh says.

Strawberry Creek, you'll learn, was one of the reasons the campus's 19th-century founders decided to purchase land from a sea captain-turned-farmer in what is now Berkeley.

"All the other striking advantages of this location," they wrote, "could not make it a place fit to be chosen as the College Home without this water. With it every excellence is of double value."

The tour starts at Faculty Glade, where the south fork emerges from the culvert that carries it 4,300 feet from Strawberry Canyon. Formerly known as "Co-ed Canyon," the glade is believed to have once been the site of an Ohlone Indian settlement.

Here you'll also see redwoods transplanted from Mendocino in 1905, and the tenacious buckeye planted in 1882, one of a number of trees on the tour that qualify as antiques.

The illustrated guidebook follows the south fork all the way to the seldom-noticed plaque dedicated to Don Pedro Fages' Spanish expedition, across what is now Oxford Street from Starbucks.

Not far downstream from the glade, view an ingenious crib wall used to stabilize the creek bed with a combination of redwood logs and one of the most diverse plant communities in California. According to Resh, we have students caught plagiarizing to thank for these trees and bushes; as penance for their transgressions, the Student Conduct Office required them to water the young plants for a month.

Also covered on the tour are water striders (the "lovers of the insect world"), check dams, a handsome Works Progress Administration mosaic, the Student Glade amphitheater, Sproul Plaza's knobby-branched plane trees, and the sun-loving algae species Cladophora glomerata.

Strawberry Creek's north and south forks meet under the shaggy Tasmanian blue gums that make up Eucalyptus Grove, "the tallest stand of hardwood trees in North America and the tallest stand of this type of eucalyptus in the world."

Tour's end is on the creek's north fork near Giannini Hall -- originally the site of campus botanical garden -- with a ginkgo that got its start in 1881.

To obtain free copies of the walking tour, contact Karl Hans at or 643-9574. Multiples are available.



July 12 - August 16, 2000 (Volume 29, Number 1)
Copyright 2000, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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