Golden Gate Park volunteer projects: the Coast Live Oaks and the Butterflies of Strawberry Hill

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sometimes things get better because they’ve been awful. So it was with Rob Bakewell, who lives across the street from Coon Hollow (off Fulton near Third Avenue) and who watched with dismay in the mid-nineties as the area became a homeless encampment, garbage dump, and drug haven. Trees were broken, soil was eroding, and the entire area was choked with cape ivy and blackberry.  Joining a group of visionary volunteers, including SHARP’s Jake Sigg, Bakewell began a two-decade real-life course in blight removal and habitat restoration.  It wasn’t easy.  Well after work parties began, in 1993, the blight persisted because city government wasn’t listening. Then in 2007 Bakewell and his volunteers interested the Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius in the problem.  Bakewell gave Nevius a tour of the area early one morning, and Nevius wrote a front-page, illustrated article in the Chronicle that exposed the drug dens and homeless encampments. That got noticed.  The city began to pitch in, and by 2010, politicians were coming to the area to have their pictures taken.

Today, the blight and invasive species are almost entirely gone, and with the help of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department Natural Areas Program, the volunteers have restored the entire northeast quadrant with flowering plants and shrubs they themselves grew in the Natural Areas’ nursery.  The venerable Horseshoe Courts, built in 1922, have been reborn after having been buried in garbage for years.  A mile-long Oak Woodlands nature trail from McLaren Lodge to 6th and Fulton will be completed in 2015, funded by SF Park Bonds and a $100,000 grant from Coca-Cola. Nothing succeeds like success.  Challenges remain, and the work continues, but these days, the area is a showcase.  The Coast Live Oaks are smiling.  If you’d like to keep them that way, contact Rob ( and join his band of volunteers.  Here is a one-minute video tour of the Coast Live Oaks.

Julia Brashares told the story of the butterfly renaissance on Strawberry Hill.  Whereas volunteers had to pressure the city to help restore the Oak Woodlands, an enlightened Rec & Park person got the Strawberry Hill project started.  In 2010, Gloria Koch-Gonzalez was Manager of Golden Gate Park.  She suggested to the San Francisco Parks Trust (now the Parks Alliance) that it start a volunteer program at Strawberry Hill.  Rec & Park and the Parks Trust reached out to lepidopterist Liam O’Brien, who, working with Nature in the City, had created the magical Green Hairstreak Corridor. With O’Brien’s guidance, the butterfly project on Strawberry Hill was born.

Butterflies are “hilltoppers,” which means they gravitate to hilltops to mate.  As the highest point in Golden Gate Park, Strawberry Hill attracts the butterflies.  Thanks to the volunteers (the Friends of Strawberry Hill), the area is now butterfly friendly.  The volunteers have planted host plants to support the butterflies and have brought the invasive cape ivy under control.  The monthly work parties attract volunteers of all ages and abilities, and include a guest speaker at lunchtime—as friendly an environment for humans as for butterflies.  The project recently celebrated its third birthday.  A sign, beautifully illustrated by O’Brien, tells the story near the top of the hill.  He also took the photographs that Julia used in her talk to SHARP.  To join the butterfly-support brigade, contact Julia at

2014-03-31: SF Chronicle
A front page article in the Chron spurred the city to help in restoring the part of the park with many Coast Live Oaks
2014-03-31: GG Park trail
The area today is not perfect but much improved.
Rob Bakewell, nature guy.
2014-03-31: Julia Brashares
Julia Brashares spoke about the restoration of butterfly habitat on Strawberry Hill.
2014-03-31: Butterflies of Strawberry Hill
Liam O'Brien's sign on top of Strawberry Hill
2014-03-31: Pipevine Swallowtails
a swallowtail butterfly

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