Dec 12, 2012

Capital project: Construction phase is fast out of the gates

It took a while to get started, but the capital project to refurbish the central area of the Panhandle near the restrooms started construction November 26 and is moving quickly. Peek around the fence, and you'll see that turf islands have been regraded and a cement seatwall has been built. At this rate, we are on track to be ready for community planting in the rain garden at the community workday on Saturday, January 12. We even have a banner with the important details.

Today digging was underway to begin repairing the Ashbury cross-over paths that have been drainage disasters. 

The hard storm on Dec 2 knocked over part of the fence just days after it was set up, but park staff had it set back in place that afternoon with the help of some cyclists riding by. More recently, cones were placed in the fence supports along the bike path, which should make them more visible and reduce the potential hazard of riding or tripping over them.

Starting this week, the restrooms are not available because the fence perimeter has been expanded as the work continues on repairing the paths in the vicinity. Sorry for the inconvenience.

December workday wrap up

For our final community workday of the year n December 8, 22 volunteers came to be part of working in cooperation with the Rec and Park gardening staff to take care of the Panhandle. With the serious storm the previous weekend, a lot of extra hands were needed to begin removing fallen branches. Although the grassy lawns look pretty clear from the vantage point of the walking path, as soon as we got out in the fields to begin the work, we found out what a major task it would be. By the end of our workday, a dozen piles were stationed near the path for pickup by park staff. Volunteers also got active in moving compost fines around the redwood trees near Oak/Baker, but they didn't get quite through the job this time. 

A couple of the volunteers were also busy with looking for and identifying mushrooms, which began appearing quickly since the rainy season began.

To show his appreciation of the Panhandle Park Stewards volunteers, Guillermo brought out his mobile skillet and made fajitas for everyone on organic blue corn tortillas from 24th St. A heavenly end to an excellent workday!

Dec 2, 2012

Major tree planting on the horizon after a year of removals

After one more eucalyptus is removed, attention will shift in 2013 to Panhandle tree planting 

Blue Gum to be marked for removal
Another large eucalyptus - a Blue Gum tagged as #302 that is a familiar sight at Fell Street at Clayton - will be marked this week, giving notice to local residents that it is to be removed. Melinda Stockmann at the SFRPD explained that a decay test found extensive decay in the lower trunk. The department plans to remove it within weeks, to abate a hazard before the remainder of the storm season.

That Blue Gum suffers the same fate of several other Panhandle trees - mostly eucalyptus and one large acacia - sent to the chipper this year. A few other trees that had been marked for possible removal ended up getting a major pruning instead. While safety was the driver behind the pruning and removals, some people have been sad to see the end of these trees, especially given their old age and enormous stature.

Opening for treeplanting
After this last removal, the emphasis next year will be on a major tree planting. Park forestry is a program of the 2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond, and is also included in the new, $195 million 2012 Parks Bond that received voter approval in November. While a schedule for implementation is not yet in place, the city has developed a draft species list for Panhandle replanting and has defined five replanting zones within the Panhandle - four between Stanyan and Masonic, while just one of the zones is east of Masonic. An example of the zones is this open area near Oak between Cole and Shrader, where the acacia had been.

Cypress and eucalyptus standing tall along
Oak Street won't be replicated 
But the number of new trees - about 40, according to the department's initial plans - is much larger than the number of trees removed this year. And the plan for planting attempts to prevent some of the problems that have turned into management headaches. For one thing, eucalyptus - which is still abundant in the Panhandle, and which besides dropping large limbs, also drops leaf and bark litter year-round - will not be planted in the Panhandle next year. Also, to reduce property damage from limbs falling on parked cars, any tree planted close to Oak or Fell will be species that don’t reach giant stature. Instead, Michelia (michelia doltsopa), Sweetgum (liquidambar styraciflua) and Maidenhair (gingko bliloba) are suggested as trees to plant somewhat close to the streets.

Trees growing about 3 feet from the bike path
Most trees in the Panhandle grow several feet away from the pathways. Standards for pathway design dictate a minimum of three feet, and recommended even greater distance. While the department hasn't committed to a specific distance [see update below], they said they would keep new trees planted away from paths. It’s not only a matter of not wanting people to run into the trees, it’s also to keep their hanging branches and their drip lines (the circumference in which the leaves drip fog and mist) away from the path.

UPDATE 12/9/12: 
I received the following note from the department: For the Park Forestry Program Replanting Plan, we are committing to planting trees no closer than 10’ from paved paths (bike and pedestrian) and street edges.

Open spaces allow full sun on the basketball courts
The department has also heard that neighbors who enjoy the Panhandle’s open, sunny areas want to maintain the open meadows. Although some new trees will be planted along the edges of meadows, these plantings will be done to create a succession of smaller to larger trees and so it could be done without shading out meadows. Likewise, I hope that trees aren't planted on the south side of the basketball courts to block the afternoon sun.

Additional planting could shield the staging area 
Also, recent management practices in the Panhandle have increased openness and visibility,  rather than form a shrubby wall or fortress effect with trees and other plants. That general practice will be maintained with next year's planting. However, there is one place where a row of dense trees may be planted, along the tongue of pavement that extends east of the basketball courts. In this area, park staff temporarily stage leaves and branches before removing them by truck to the parkwide compost yard. A row of trees - complimenting three yews that survive from a planting long, long ago - is planned for that location, and that’s one area where it makes sense to create a kind of shield.

Besides these species previously mentioned, additional trees on the draft species list are Monterey Cypress, Giant Sequoia, Chilean Wine Palm, Copper Beech, Queensland Kauri, Lily of the Valley tree, two species of Magnolia, Monkey’s Hand Tree, Red Horse Chestnut, Norfolk Pine, Dawn Redwood, and Tulip Tree.