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Bernal Heights Nature Walk

Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk

By Bonnie Ora Sherk
Founder & Director, Life Frames, Inc. & A Living Library

A Living Library  = A.L.L. Transforming communities and schools by interconnecting local biological, cultural, technological resources – past, present, future

A Think Park is meant to make us think, feel, and be more empathetic

Community plans have been underway for almost 10 years to create the Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk linking schools, parks, streets, housing developments, and other open spaces leading to the Islais Creek at the south end of St. Mary’s Park. Already, almost 600 California Native Trees have been planted along Appleton in front of Junipero Serra Child Development Center and College Hill Reservoir, in Holly Courts, in Holly Park, and in St. Mary’s Park, and soon interpretive signage will be added, all funded by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.  Plans are also being developed to include more plantings around Junipero Serra Elementary School, and in Alemany Public Housing Development, with understory and added interpretive signage for all sites, if another recently applied-for state grant is awarded.

A Community Master Plan for the Bernal Heights Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk was developed by diverse community participants including children, youth, and adults, led by Life Frames, Inc. and Bonnie Ora Sherk, in 2002-03, funded by Mayor’s Office of Community Development and San Francisco Foundation.  Trees were planted by school children, neighbors, volunteers from Salesforce, One Brick, Jewish Community Federation, with great help from Recreation & Park, Department Public Works, Housing Authority, SF Public Utilities Commission.   According to Karen Huggins, Public Housing Development President of Holly Courts’ Resident’s Council, “The Living Library Nature Walk that will eventually frame the Islais Creek Watershed is more than just a nature walk.  It is a bridge connecting the whole community together with the same visions for the future, making a connection daily as we walk by each other.”

When fully implemented in future Phases, another goal of our work is to Frame the Islais Creek Watershed.  The Islais Creek Watershed is the largest in San Francisco and includes at least 11 communities:  Bernal Heights, Mission, Potrero Hill, Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Portola, Crocker-Amazon, Excelsior, OMI, Sunnyside, Glen Park, Noe Valley.

The New Gold Is Old:  Fresh Water

Ultimately, a goal and opportunity, is to create the Islais Creek Living Library & Think Park Nature Walk comprised of native trees and understory, integrated edible landscapes, other related elements, education programs, green skills job training, that will link multiple parks, schools, streets, public housing, rights-of-way, and other open spaces within the Watershed.  We also envision that we will be daylighting the creeks where possible, and using creek water to rehabilitate native habitat, and also using ground water and storm water for irrigation of our new trees and understory.  Also envisioned is linking diverse parts of the Watershed, through Green Powered Digital Gateways, so people in different communities can see how they are interconnected.  Another potential, is that St. Mary’s Park, where a large part of our Nature Walk is located, could also become a community-wide Watershed and Urban Forestry Education Center with hands-on, outdoor classrooms, in addition to those in the schools where we currently work.

On May10, 2010, Supervisor David Campos, based on our work and others, like Clean Water Action and Urban Creeks Council, called a public hearing for the Supervisor’s Land Use Committee to address issues of daylighting creeks in San Francisco, particularly as it relates to the new SFPUC Wastewater Master Plan and development of new sewer infrastructure.  The result of all, has been to move the PUC towards a more holistic, systemic Whole Watershed approach, in which we will be able to separate, use, and daylight fresh creek water where possible, within our urban setting.  The New Gold Is Old:  Fresh Water.  Supervisor Campos will hold a follow-up Hearing to review PUC changes regarding daylighting creeks and related issues.

Branch Living Library & Think Parks

In addition to our Nature Walk and Watershed initiatives, Life Frames also developed Branch Living Library & Think Parks, funded by SF Department of Children, Youth & Their Families.  In SF, we currently work with over 800 children and youth each month, at 6 schools in 3 neighborhoods, with interdisciplinary, standards-based, hands-on ecological transformation of their school and community.  Four of those schools are part of the Islais Creek Watershed and their transformed campuses are part of the proposed larger network of linked places to eventually Frame the Islais Creek Watershed: (Junipero Serra ES & Junipero Serra CDC in Bernal; James Denman MS & San Miguel CDC in Excelsior; also, Gordon Lau ES & Commodore Stockton CDC in Chinatown).

If neighbors in the area, on Holly Park Circle or Murray Street, between HPC and Crescent are interested in a California native tree in front of their house, or if you would like to participate in helping to develop these initiatives, please contact:

For more information view:

Video of volunteer tree planting event at the Bernal Heights Living Library Nature Walk