By Shirley Wiegand
Recently, six Trails Club members hiked the entire Rossmoor Trail loop, beginning and ending at the Gateway Clubhouse.
We covered the 10.4 mile loop by taking the stairs up to Cactus Court, hiking the entire East Ridge, through the Las Trampas neighborhood on the south end of our valley, across the west ridge to the Hillside clubhouse, and down Golden Rain Road back to Gateway.
As we hiked, I couldn’t help wondering how the trails developed. Who built them? And when?
I pored through various documents and talked to a lot of people, from hikers who’ve lived here for almost twenty years to amateur historians to employees and former employees. This is what I’ve learned.
Of course, the first known inhabitants of this valley were the Saklan Indians. (See Rossmoor News 2014 for a detailed article on Rossmoor history.) Already at that time, one can imagine that deer and other wildlife had begun to carve out trails as they roamed the hills. The first real evidence of a trail, though, began in 1855 when J.W. Tice carved his initials into a Miocene rock on a hill just above what is now Cactus Court. That rock, still there, marks one end of the Rossmoor trail, but it’s likely the trail saw more use once R. Stanley Dollar bought the property in 1930, and here is where the trail history begins.
Dollar used the property as a ranch, raising horses and purebred Hereford cows. He lived in what is now the Dollar Clubhouse. Although the cows would have grazed primarily in the valley, those who rode the horses would have wanted to wander among the hills. The entire Tice Valley area was a popular spot for local horse ranchers; even before Dollar purchased the property, a horse corral was located near the Rossmoor entrance. Dollar removed that aging structure and built a horse stable on the east side of the valley (behind the RV parking lot), so it’s not surprising that horse trails developed on that side of the valley, most likely following
wildlife trails already on the hillside.
When Ross Cortese purchased the property in 1960, the horse stable continued to flourish and housed the horses owned by some of the new residents. A sales brochure offered to potential buyers in 1964 listed “Riding Stables” as an inducement:
Leisure World [its former name]…will have many miles of riding trails. A stable of fine
horses will be maintained on the grounds for the exclusive use of Leisure World
Those “miles of riding trails” no doubt crossed much of the east ridge, from the Tice Rock all the way over to the stable near the current RV parking lot. On the opposite west ridge, equestrians also followed trails that may have developed from existing animal paths, running across part of the ridge behind the current Terra Granada.
But it was the Trails Club of Rossmoor that transformed those trails into the ten-mile system it is today. When Mary Rogers Smith founded the Trails Club in 1968, the newly organized hikers were happy to enjoy the equestrian trails already in place. Meeting at the corner of Tice Creek Drive and Avenida Sevilla, the first Club hike took place in February 1968 and covered six miles of trails.Naturalist residents Wesley and Mary Clark led the hike.
In the early 2000s, the Trails Club moved its meeting place to its current spot behind the Gateway meeting rooms, but it first
memorialized that initial meeting place with a bench in honor of one of its members, RuthYoung. The bench remains, with the inscription: “She was happiest when face to face with the great outdoors.” And what better place to enjoy the great outdoors than up on the hills above our valley.
For thirty-five years of Rossmoor history, the trails saw dual use, by both equestrians and hikers. During this time, they might encounter peacocks that roamed the Rossmoor grounds and a petting zoo, where residents enjoyed taking their grandchildren. Jim Gardner, longtime Rossmoor resident, started the zoo which, at various times, featured miniature horses, goats, chickens and geese, pot-bellied pigs, and a woolly sheep.
Both horses and zoo disappeared in 2001 when, in a controversial decision that received much local press, GRF ordered the stables closed and the horses and petting zoo removed. The property is now used for the MOD offices and RV parking area. Since that time, hikers became the primary users of the trail system.
But it soon became apparent that the trails would require periodic attention if hikers could safely navigate them. Already in 1969, Trails Club members began to improve the West Ridge Trail that ran south from a fire road out of what is now Terra Granada, Entry 5, to the edge of what is now the Las Trampas Road neighborhood. The trail was later named Clyde Wood Trail in honor of Trails Club member Wood, a high school biology teacher who often brought his classes to the hills. The fire road that marked the north edge of the trail is now called Sumner’s Trail after longtime Trails Club member Sumner Walters.
Over time, some of the access trails had become overgrown, so Club members organized workdetails to clear the weeds, using their own garden equipment. In spring 1980, Club member Albert Veltman recruited fellow hikers to develop a new trail up to the west ridge, now known as Veltman Trail, at what is now Terra Granada Drive Entry 14.
By the early 2000s, the west ridge trail still ran only as far north as just above Ptarmigan Drive. When Don Geahry moved to Rossmoor in 2003 and Ta-hsia Kuo in 2004, they both joined the Trails Club, and both had a vision for a more extensive trail system that would loop around the entire community.
They, and other hikers, began to fill in the missing pieces. On their own, Club members began to explore the west ridge, gully to gully, hilltop to hilltop, figuring out where stream crossings might work, where trail switchbacks were needed to permit gradual ascent. They’d arrange club work dates, inviting other hikers to bring their own garden tools and spend hours carving out more trail. At one point, Don collected wood from junkyards to build steps where needed.
Then they discovered Joe Stadum. Joe had lived in Martinez with his wife Mary Alice (though Joe has since died, Mary Alice remains a Club member). They both worked with the John Muir Land Trust, he as a trail steward. He also worked on trails with the East Bay Regional Parks district and as a volunteer with the Save Mount Diablo Trail Dogs, a local volunteer band of trail designers and builders. Once he hooked up with Don and Ta-hsia, bringing along his expertise and the Trail Dogs’ more sophisticated tools, work really progressed.
The volunteers began to extend the trail north on the west ridge. Work on the first major trail extension of what is now called Sumner’s Trail started above Ptarmigan Drive and ran a half mile north to Stanley Dollar Drive. For every additional foot of trail, Club members repeated the same process, scouting out possibilities by heading into the brush cross country, flagging branches along the way,revising the route over and over, and finally enlisting other Club members to help carve out the trail.
Each new trail might take several years. But to extend the west ridge trail all the way north beyond Stanley Dollar Drive, they needed
more help than Trails Club volunteers could provide. That’s when Joe Stadum decided to enlist the help of the Rossmoor landscaping crew.
Rich Perona was hired as the Rossmoor Landscape Manager in 2001, having worked in Rossmoor as maintenance superintendent for a commercial landscaping company (now called Brightview) since 1990. He recalls the early 1960s, when the owner of Rossmoor’s private landscaping company would visit; the landscaping crew would host him with a barbeque, serving up a freshly killed deer from the Rossmoor hills. Rich loved the Rossmoor community and served as its landscape manager for fifteen years, but when he first arrived, he knew nothing about the Trails Club. One day, out of the blue, he received a phone call from Joe Stadum who reported a fallen tree blocking the trail near Terra Granada, Entry 5; he asked if Rich’s crew could help remove it. Rich arranged for the tree removal and his warm relationship with Joe began.
Joe took him on the trails, showed him what the club had already accomplished, and explained the kind of heavy duty maintenance the trail system required. He also shared the vision he and other hikers had for extending the trails to surround the entire community.
Rich was hooked. He suggested the Club seek additional assistance from the GRF, hoping for an annual trail maintenance budget item. GRF agreed, and since that time, Rossmoor landscapers work with the Trails Club to handle some of the more challenging projects, like the installation of multiple stairs on steep hillsides, removal of fallen trees, and poisonous weed control along
the trail. When it became obvious that the trails needed directional signs, Joe Stadum enlisted the help of Club member Charlene Liu who designed the signs, then gave them to Rich who arranged for their manufacture and for installation of the concrete and posts to hold them.
At the time, no trail existed between Stanley Dollar and the Hillside Clubhouse. The Trails Club determined to fill that gap. What is now the .7 mile Stadum-Tahsia Trail connecting Stanley Dollar Drive with Rockledge Lane took about a year. More difficult was the 1.8 mile long Rockcrest Trail from Rockledge Lane to the Hillside Clubhouse. That project took several years under the leadership of successive Club trail stewards Joe Stadum, Richard Rex, and Larry Barclay, and with the help of many Club volunteers and Rossmoor Landscape Department.
Several trail improvements don’t add distance at all. For example, on the southern tip of the Clyde Wood Trail up on the west ridge, many hikers have enjoyed lunch at a lovely hilltop picnic table. The Scharf Table, as it’s called, was designed by Club member Uri Cohen and built in Jack Cassidy’s garage in sections, then transported to the hilltop (with help from a kind Las Trampas ranger and his pickup truck) and assembled. It honors the memory of Club member Bob Scharf.
Another popular feature is the labyrinth, located off Saklan Indian Drive and completed in 2015. The idea came from Ta-hsia Kuo, who took his vision to Trails Club trail steward Larry Barclay, who then enlisted the help of the Landscape Department to locate and prepare the best site. Then Ta-shia and Larry designed the 9-path layout, and with several Trails Club members, laid out the elaborate rock pattern. Today, residents of all stripes make their way up to this lovely hilltop and enjoy the quiet meditative view.
The nearby sign, “Eddy’s Park,” is named after Eddy Ibarra, Landscape Field Supervisor, who has worked on most of the trails and still recalls hauling bags of cement up the steep trails for sign installations.
Although a rough map of the early trails dates from 1977, the current detailed map marks a collaboration of the Trails Club and GRF. Ten years ago, with the advent of sophisticated software, Club members began tracking and recording the trails. They hiked over and over, gathering data for Club member Bruce Freeland who translated it into the beautiful maps we have today. GRF funds pay for the printing and distribution.
The collaboration between the Trails Club and Rossmoor’s landscaping crew continues, most recently under the leadership of Rebecca Pollan, Rossmoor’s last landscape manager, and Larry Barclay, Trails Club trail steward.
Over the past twenty years, several bypass trails have been built. The most recent, bypassing Las Trampas Road on the south end of Rossmoor, eliminates the need to walk on the pavement of a developed neighborhood. The bypass cuts down into a valley and up again, with multiple stairs.
Still, two pavement sections remain. A trail currently under construction will bypass one of them, a paved section of Shadowhawk Way and Grey Eagle Drive. The last section of pavement runs onto Lower Golden Rain Road from the Hillside Clubhouse down to Gateway. Many club members hope the trail can one day extend all the way to Skycrest Drive or beyond, though sofar an appropriate route has yet to be determined.
Of course, there is no “end” to history. This one began well before Rossmoor existed, with Saklan Indian hunters stalking wild animals. It continued with the development of horse ranches and horse trails. And today, it features primarily Rossmoor hikers following the miles and miles of developed and well-maintained hiking trails.
Who knows where it will end? In any case, the trails will continue to exist for any residents willing to step out their doors and enjoy
the beautiful, natural surroundings we call home.
Thanks to those I’ve interviewed who shared their knowledge and memories: Christine and Larry Barclay, Steve Batill. Tanya Ericson, Don Geahry, Diane Hinds, Eddy Ibarra, Ta-hsia Kuo, Charlene Liu, Rich Perona, Mary Alice Stadum, and Ingrid Wood. Ingrid is an excellent historian and shared boxes of maps, histories, notes, and memories.