by Richard Langs, History Press
Book Review by Craig MacDonald
I've always heard a lot about Tilden Regional Park. My dad talked about how he used to go there on dates with my mom and how he loved playing golf on its beautiful course, while he worked his way through the University of California.
In college, I heard my history professor, Dr. Hornig, tell the story of how he was about to tee off at Tilden when an older gentleman strolled up and quietly asked, "Mind if I play along. My name's Nimitz." That stranger, a Berkeley native, was Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was Commander in Chief of the Pacific for US & Allied Air, Land and Sea Forces in World War II.
I learned the modest celebrity—namesake of the park's Nimitz Way—enjoyed hiking and sewing yellow lupine seeds along the trail from Inspiration Point to Wildcat Canyon to enhance the scenery.
Oakland historian Richard Langs' love for this impressive place, in the hills above Berkeley, is evident in his detailed History Press book, "Tilden Regional Park." He documents just about everything you'd ever want to know about "The Queen of the East Bay," from its earliest history, the cultures, the people, the politics, the controversies and the incredible effort it took to create and preserve this evolving park, which will never be completed as long as there's imagination and people looking out for it.
It has more than 2,000 acres, 39 miles of trails (for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians), lakes, a steam train, merry-go-round, environmental education center, a working farm, a golf course and much more. No wonder over 850,000 people enjoy it every year.
Amazingly, it's part of the East Bay Regional Park District—the largest regional park agency in the country, with 73 parks, a combined 121,397 acres, hosting over 25 million visitors annually!
The story of its birth and growth is definitely worth reading and seeing in the book's many photos. Here are a few tidbits: For thousands of years, the Huchiun tribe of Ohlone Native Americans occupied the site and were the first to manage the land, using burning, cultivation and pruning techniques, ensuring the health of the numerous variety of plants and wildlife.
In the Spring of 1776, a Spanish expedition with Juan Bautista de Anza explored the East Bay. In 1821, Mexico declared its independence from Spain and claimed the land as part of their territory, carving up the East Bay for large cattle ranchos. Tilden Regional Park was once on the Southwest portion of Rancho Sobrante.
In 1921, the East Bay Municipal Water District was created to help solve water problems in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
Thirteen years later, the East Bay Regional Park District was formed with Major Charles Tilden as Board President. In 1857, Tilden had been born in a miner's cabin at Chili Gulch (Calaveras County). The son of a successful gold miner, Tilden was one of many who found gold in working to develop the jewel, which would be named for him.
In addition to Tilden, there were many others who left their footprints, including George Washington Goethals, formerly of the Army Corps of Engineers; William Mulholland, former head of Los Angeles Water & Power; Arthur Davis, former Chief Engineer of the US Bureau of Reclamation, and Dr. George Pardee, a former Oakland Mayor and California Governor, selected to be President of the East Bay Municipal Water District.
Yet, it was really hundreds of others, who were instrumental in giving Tilden Park its personality—folks like Roy Butler, who first thought Wildcat Canyon would be a terrific site for a world-class golf course; Aurelia Reinhardt, President of Mills College and one of the park district's original board members, and the Davis Family of Merry-Go-Round operators.
Many people and organizations—government and non-profit—assisted in the endless effort to make the park what it is today, including the federal government, Civil Conservation Corps, UC and Berkeley High School, the National Park Service, user groups (such as horseback, hikers, bicyclists, train enthusiasts and other volunteers, who save the park over $1 million a year) and the military.
Between 1941-1973, the US Army leased three sites in the park. During World War II, military camps were located throughout it for training, radar, artillery and much more.
Read Richard Langs book to further realize and understand what an incredible job was done by so many, to not only preserve and protect Tilden's natural resources but provide wonderful recreational opportunities for the thousands of district residents and tourists, who really enjoy it today.