We’ve been members of AAA for decades, now, and value their adventure-inspiring magazine, Via, almost as much as their roadside service. Recently, we were particularly delighted to see a great article on one of San Francisco’s best-kept secrets – Sutro Cloud Forest.
Here’s how the article starts:
“Step into the mist-shrouded forests of Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve and the spell is cast: The noise of neighboring Cole Valley vanishes, replaced by the creak of towering trees, an invisible chorus of warblers and sparrows, and the burble of a seasonal stream. Orange and yellow nasturtiums spill down the steep hillsides next to sword ferns and dense blackberry bushes.”
As many of our readers know, the unique and mysterious beauty of Sutro Forest is one reason so many people love the place and want to save it from those who would cut down thousands of its trees. (If you want to sign the petition to save the forest, and have not yet done so, it’s HERE.)
Unfortunately, the online version of the Via story – though more legible than our photo of the page above – doesn’t have the evocative photograph carried by the print version.
ADOLPH SUTRO LOVED TREES
They give a shout-out to the philanthropist Adolph Sutro, who planted this forest: “…purportedly in celebration of Arbor Day, though cynics claim he was motivated by a tax break for forested land within city limits.”
The cynics’ cynicism is misplaced. What the record shows is that he did it to beautify the city. Here’s what he wrote: “…people… will wander through the majestic groves rising from the trees we are now planting, reverencing the memory of those whose foresight clothed the earth with emerald robes and made nature beautiful to look upon.”
Here’s an item from the newspaper The San Francisco Call, written on 11th Oct 1901:
A FOREST— G. H. I., City. The forest that is on the hillside east, south and west of the Affiliated Colleges covers 194 acres. It is part of the San Miguel Ranch that was purchased by the late Adolph Sutro after making his millions by means of the Sutro tunnel on the Comstock. He named the place Mount Parnassus, after the mountain of that name in Phocis, greatly celebrated among the ancients and regarded by the Greeks as the central point of their country. Mr. Sutro was a great believer in the idea that for every tree that is destroyed two should be planted, and to show that trees will grow on barren hills he at the time he inaugurated tree planting in this city and on Goat Island a quarter of a century ago set out thousands of trees on Mount Parnassus, with the result that is noticeable to-day.
In fact, we understand he had willed that no trees would be cut down in the life-time of his heirs. But after his death, his will was broken and much of the land developed. Sutro Forest and Mount Davidson are the last century-old remnants of a forest that once covered more than a thousand acres.
If you want to know more about Adolph Sutro, here’s a well-researched article by historian Jacqueline Proctor – The Father of Tree Planting in California/ Adolph Sutro’s Urban Forests: Influences and Lasting Benefits.
I have also been a AAA member for as long as I can remember. It was great to see the Sutro forest admired in AAA’s Via magazine. The photo of the forest is perfect because it shows native red elderberry with its bright red fruit growing in profusion in the understory. These berries are a valuable source of food for birds, as are the blackberries on the non-native Himalayan blackberry. Plans that are presently on hold propose to destroy the understory as well as most of the trees. That is going to have a profoundly negative impact on the birds. It remains a mystery how native plant advocates can claim that wildlife will benefit from such a destructive project.
I am also glad the article acknowledges the “ongoing debate about invasive species.” This is a very mainstream organization that doesn’t engage in controversial topics, yet it is aware of this debate. Surely, that means the public is beginning to notice the issue.
Congratulations on Mt. Sutro getting the exposure that it deserves. Hopefully this article will attract a new group of visitors, ones who let themselves enjoy nature.
What a pleasure to read this.
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