Sec. 486 M.P.C.

I saw a sign today that made me want to run home to the internet and do a search. It was in regards to Sec. 486 M.P.C. A law which forbids the feeding of wildlife in San Francisco. This sign listed some of the wildlife and I realized that I have been in violation of this law many time, but luckily I haven’t in the past 10 years so I think I’m past the statue of limitations.

I used to love many years ago to go to the arboretum and sit on a bench and wait until the squirrels would run up my legs for me to hand them a peanut [hint, they prefer walnuts]. I love my time as a teenager when the raccoons would walk up to me in my back yard and take an egg from my hand. I was not one to ever feed pigeons, though there were a couple of times when a friendly one would walk up and i’d toss a bit of something to them. Seagulls are definitely off my list as they are food thieves and don’t need to be fed ever. I have tossed some old bread to the ducks at Stowe Lake though.

At the zoo, when I was a kid they used to sell mackerel bits to toss to the seals, but I suppose that didn’t fall under Sec. 486 M.P.C. then or there was some kind of special dispensation. I know that feeding squirrels isn’t really that good for them, but in a way it disappoints me as I will not have the chance to take my daughter to Japanese Tea Garden or Arboretum and show her how much fun it is when a squirrel takes a nut from your hand. I’m not sure I’d want to help her feed a raccoon as they can turn on you sometimes and there is always that rabies thing you have to think of.

I guess the goats and sheep at the zoo are considered domestic animals since they sell alfalfa pellets for them that you can purchase for 50¢ and feed to them. My daughter enjoys this a lot so I guess that’ll have to do. I definitely will add skunks to the menu of animals not to fee, though I admit I have done that before in San Francisco as well as the odd possum I’ve seen. While I’ve encounter a couple of coyote’s in San Francisco, I’ve never fed one preferring to stay safely in my car. I have fed old bread to the Buffalos in the park way back when they could  walk up to the fence, but those days have passed. I even remember back to the days as a kid when they sold zoo chow at the zoo and I would be throwing the pellets at the bears who would lean back and hold up their hind legs to get you to perform for them so they could get the treats.

I guess the times are a changing when the department of public works posts a phone number you can call to report offenders. I wonder now what the fine is for feeding a nut to a squirrel?

Stow Lake

How I managed to leave out the largest manmade lake in Golden Gate Park is beyond me, so it gets it’s own spot today. Stow lake offers many things to people who visit the park. Joggers can be seen looping around it in the morning. You’ll find a few elderly people walking around with their grandchildren feeding scraps of bread to the ducks and turtles or you might find people renting boats to paddle around the lake watching urban hikers make the trip up to the top of the centerpiece Strawberry Hill.

Stow lake has come under fire recently because the Stow Lake Corp, a family run business that has owned the boathouse for over 60 years may be ousted from its roost by a company run by Alex Tourk a former aide to our old friend Gavin Newsom. Now I have to say it’s been awhile since I bothered eating any of the standard fare offered by the boathouse, but I do admit I have fond memories as a kid of eating that possibly carcinogenic pink popcorn and drink a half flat coke that they served up while walking around the lake. I’m going to have to stradle the fence on this one because while the boathouse and boat rentals need a major make over, I’m not sure that what would replace it while looking better would better serve the public. I’m not sure I want to see a pricey yuppified expensive cafe going in there, but things can’t always stay the same.

Around back from the boat rentals and boathouse is where you can rent bikes to cruise around the park which does an especially good business on Sundays when that part of the park is closed to car traffic. These are your regular bikes, but recombinant tricycles and four wheeled surrey type bikes that you can fill up with the whole family. While being the main focus of Stow Lake if you walk ar0und you’ll find there is more to be had at this stop.

As a kid I remember hearing stories about piranhas living in Stow Lake. This was one of those urban myths that actually had a bit of truth to it. There was a time period when I was a kid that every kid had a fish tank. As the family got tired of changing water and taking care of the fish you had two choices, flush the fish down the toilet or be more humane and release your tropical water based fish into the cold Stow Lake. I guess no one ever thought of bringing them back to the fish store and just giving them back to the owners of the store, but that was the early 70’s.

Now one of the interesting things about tropical fish is that they don’t all need 80° water to survive. Some can actually acclimate to colder water and one of these fish is a vegetarian version of the piranha called the pacu. I have seen pacu in the lake in the past and you can’t miss them because they’re about four times the size of a piranha and can be found snapping up bits of bread that people would throw to feed the ducks. I remember throwing fishing nets into the water and seeing what kind of fish you would find there. After sticklebacks and minnows we did find quite a few aquarium fish that had been dumped there, mostly goldfish. The pacu was always the goal to catch, but I never caught one.

As you’re walking around the lake you can hike up the top of Strawberry Hill passing over Huntington Falls. It’s a pretty easy hike and the pay off at the topic isn’t exactly the most spectacular. You get to see the remains of a house who’s owner I can’t find anymore, but the rocks have been made into a circle that has been used for campfires and it sits next to a pond that serves as an emergency water supply to fire hydrants around the city. I’m not sure if they’ve tested this any time recently, but I’m not going to hold my breath if it needs to be used in the future. The best part about being up high here is the views of the city. It really is one of those wow moments when you feel like you’re kind of out in the wild and then when you get to the top you see that you’re surrounded by the city.

As you travel back down don’t forget to stop by the Chinese Pavillion. It looks great from a distance, but after construction they didn’t take into account the water spray from the falls would collect on the clay based soil and now drain so it is a bit mucky when you walk up to it.

If you travel off to the side of the boathouse you’ll find several large picnic spots complete with grills. These are rather nice if you want to have a party and don’t want your friends destroying your house. The especially nice part about this picnic spot is that you’re walking distance from the boathouse and the nicely refinished bathrooms. Public restrooms I have no problem with them being changed and updated every few years. I think we can all agree on that!

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Urban Wildlife: It’s More Than Rats and Roaches

A lot of people don’t realize that just because we live in a city that there isn’t some real wildlife you can find here. Sure, we’ve got raccoons and skunks and the occasional possum or opossum where the “O” is silent, but we also have a few other beasts that make our way into San Francisco.

Well, there are feral cats, tons of them. No matter where you go you well see stray cats running around, but we also have some nice pristine areas that urban dwellers haven’t taken over that have become home to some even more wildlife. In the East Bay a few years ago there was a jogger who was attacked by a mountain lion. San Francisco, luckily free of mountain lions does have its share of coyotes now. You usually see them in the Richmond district making their way through the park to Sunset Boulevard in the Sunset district. The biologists in the know say they are coming from Marin and are actually crossing the Golden Gate Bridge at night to venture into better feeding grounds in the Presidio.

I read a story yesterday though that shows that apparently our coyote population isn’t just made up of immigrants from Marin. There are several coyotes living in Glen Park Canyon and people who have been watching them have noticed that one of the cubs, term used loosely because he/she is a couple of years old, has moved on to greener pastures. I used to live near the canyon and if I was a wild animal living in an urban area I’m not sure where I would go. They could go up the hill from Glen Park, but that would be navigating along asphalt walkways until you get to the top and hit the mini-mall like shopping area and juvenile hall. Not sure how long a coyote would last in juvenile hall, but I wouldn’t want to test the theory.

If the coyote went east you’d be smack in the middle of the Mission District 94112, again, not a nice place to be a wild animal with the 14 Mission buses to avoid along with all the people cruising down Mission street. The Norteño/Sureño gang’s aren’t as big there anymore so you wouldn’t have to worry about being shot, but Jeez, it’s kind of tough to be a wild animal in an urban setting when the people are more wild than you are.

I will give you a word of advice though. If you do run into a coyote in San Francisco keep in mind that they aren’t dogs. They’re a little more confusing than the foxes that you rarely see anymore except by the beach, but coyotes can be easily mistaken for dogs so don’t walk up and put your hand out for it to sniff or you might be making a quick trip to the hospital to have your hand put back together. While they don’t bite with as much force as a wolf or a pit bull their faces are built to tear flesh and as someone who once went through the wind shield of Caddy from the outside in, having your flesh torn from your body is not a fun thing to have happen.

I had one walk by my car when I was driving through the Presidio and I stopped thinking it might be a lost dog. Luckily I realized when it was a couple feet from my window that it wasn’t a dog. We stopped and looked at it safely from inside the car until it got bored with us and started to walk away. Coyotes are seen by the Native Americans as tricksters and I wanted him to leave first. If I decided to drive he might have done something stupid like jump in front of my car since they’re fast and having to explain to my friends in SF that I hit a coyote with my car in San Francisco is just something that might be a little difficult for some people to understand.

Coyotes, they’re here and they’re not going away. Just keep that in mind.

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How to Practice Your Camping Skills in San Francisco

You have to love the Presidio. When it was used by the military it must have been great for training exercises because of all the dense growth of trees and brush and the sheer size makes it a great place to take a walk around and explore.

One of the few hidden secrets is that it has the only location within San Francisco where you can legally camp. Yep, you read that right, camping in San Francisco. It’s called the Rob Hill Campground and I and a few friends used the place before it was remodeled last year. It now has four campgrounds up from two when we used it and the price has increased a little bit to $100/site. Each site can hold up to 30 campers so if you’ve got a group then the price is more reasonable.

It’s a wonderful place to go and camp and you get to fall asleep to the roar of the Ocean nearby and because of all the trees when the wind picks up in the afternoon it’s not as bad as it could be. When the sun sets is when the fun begins. We were all sitting by the campfire when we started to hear noises. We started to see raccoons, skunks and one coyote sniffing around for scraps. You’ll usually here them rifling through the garbage cans at night so any food you have with you that you haven’t used you might want to pack up in your car or a very secure ice chest. Raccoons and coyotes are notorious for getting into places you wouldn’t expect them to.

A nice addition to the campground is the real bathrooms. When my wife and I went to inspect the place prior to our get together they had the bathrooms locked down and a large badly needed to be cleaned porta-potty. A quick email off to the local city officials and parks department suddenly had not just that bathroom, but every bathroom in the Presidio and Golden Gate Park scrubbed down and refurbished. You can thank me for that.

The only downside, if you can call it a downside is that the Presidio Trust runs the CAP [Camping at the Presidio] program for kids that gets priority over anyone else. That could be a bad thing, but for most kids in San Francisco camping isn’t something you get to do very often without having to drive for about an hour. Here’s what the Presidio Trust has to say about the new campground:

Rob Hill Campground is a hidden Presidio gem and is the only camping facility in San Francisco. The site is a fantastic venue for outdoor learning and fun. To provide children and youth who traditionally have not visited national parks with overnight camping experiences, the Crissy Field Center (operated by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and the National Park Service), the Presidio Trust, and Bay Area Wilderness Training have developed the Camping at the Presidio (CAP) program.

Designed for community organizations and schools, CAP provides a dynamic and affordable way to enrich the lives of young people. CAP trains group leaders with the skills and resources they need to plan and lead a youth camping trip. After program leaders complete an Outdoor Leadership Training program they can begin to prepare for their camping trip to the park. Eligible community and school groups can reserve the campground between March and October.

[mappress mapid=”27″]I have to say that the redo is nice work. The bathrooms are nicer, but don’t have showers still. They’ve developed hiking trails that last time I was there had what looked like some construction work and piles of logs in a muddy area. Now it really looks like a real camping spot. New picnic tables and grills have been installed. We can thank the Haas family for the donations that made this possible. Plus the big bonus is that you have regular park patrols to keep the homeless campers in Golden Gate Park from moving to a new zip code. Check it out some day even if you’re not going to camp. It’s a fun place to hike around. Plus if you do decide to camp you’re not too far away from any needed amenities you forgot to bring with you at the last minute.