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The three-square-mile Strawberry Creek Watershed begins on the western slope of the Berkeley hills with a series of small springs and tributaries, the most prominent being the North Fork and Hamilton Gulch. Strawberry Creek and Hamilton Gulch converge to flow through Strawberry Valley, then through the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) campus. The North Fork joins Strawberry Creek at the eucalyptus grove in the center of the campus. Shortly after this confluence the creek enters the city culvert at Oxford Street and flows underground, west through Berkeley, eventually emptying into San Francisco Bay near University Avenue. Stormwater routing as well as stream culverting and channel confinement have significantly altered the natural drainage courses of the North Fork and Strawberry Creek.
Schoolhouse Creek emerges in the Berkeley hills from a number of small springs just south of Codornices Creek and north of Virginia Street. With no real tributaries, Schoolhouse Creek proper begins in the vicinity of McGee and Cedar streets on the flatlands below the hills, forming a one-square mile watershed that extends to the bay. From there the creek runs southwest between Virginia and Cedar streets. Throughout most of its upper and middle courses, the creek is culverted. It emerges for part of the block between Sacramento and Acton streets, above Chestnut Street, and again at Curtis Street. Where it crosses the old right-of-way of the Santa Fe Railroad, now a pedestrian-bicycle trail, a massive buried concrete abutment and culvert hide the creek. The creek eventually passes under I-880 and enters San Francisco Bay.
Flora and Fauna
Strawberry Creek historically provided habitat for a seasonal salmon run, several other native fish species, frogs, newts, and other aquatic organisms. Poor water quality, culverting, and powerful storm flows devastated most of these populations. Restoration efforts on the UC Berkeley campus, however, have successfully re-introduced several native fish species. Please see Strawberry Creek – The Making of an Urban Stream.
Populations of large mammals such as grizzly bears and elk were decimated long ago, but the remaining Strawberry Canyon wildlands still provide habitat for deer, fox, mountain lions, and other species. Threatened animal species, such as the Alameda whipsnake are known to inhabit the greater Strawberry Creek ecosystem. The corridor from the UC Berkeley campus to San Francisco Bay is largely culverted and restricts access to most organisms–an issue also facing Schoolhouse Creek. For more information on species in Strawberry Creek, refer to the UC Berkeley Strawberry Creek Biological Resources – 2008 Status Report.
Geology and Hydrology
Powerful geologic processes, including uplift, earthquakes, and mass wasting, created the Strawberry Creek Watershed. They continue today and will shape the future of the creek and its inhabitants. Strawberry Creek crosses the Hayward Fault at Memorial Stadium, the football stadium on the UC Berkeley campus. The fault is a dominant geologic feature of the campus.
Strawberry Creek’s hydrology has been greatly altered by urbanization, primarily an increase in impervious surfaces on the UC Berkeley campus and in the city’s northside and downtown communities. The consequences of urbanization include increased water pollution, decreased groundwater recharge, and flash flows—higher, faster peak flows than those that occurred previously. These same hydrological issues apply to the Schoolhouse Creek Watershed.
Both the Schoolhouse and Strawberry Creek watersheds face very similar issues due to their close proximity and characteristics. As they drain primarily urban areas, surface runoff carrying potentially harmful pollutants is an important concern that affects the health of the creeks and eventually San Francisco Bay. These pollutants include fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste, heavy metals, and gas and oil. The creeks also transport a significant amount of litter to the shoreline and the bay, particularly light weight plastic products such as food wrappers and drink containers.
Most of Strawberry Creek through the city of Berkeley had been culverted and channelized by the 1930s, disrupting natural flows and damaging aquatic and riparian habitats. By the 1980s the creek water quality was so poor that Berkeley health officials advised against direct contact with the creek because of sewage and chemical contamination. Degraded water quality from over a century of urbanization was one of the main problems that led to the creation of the Strawberry Creek Management Plan in 1987 and subsequent restoration program.
Major Creeks & Waterbodies
The Strawberry Creek Watershed comprises the main branch and many tributaries in the Berkeley hills. The North Fork, Hamilton Gulch, and Strawberry Creek proper drain the UC Berkeley campus, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and upstream headwaters before converging to form the main branch. Schoolhouse Creek, lying just north of the much larger Strawberry Creek, has no tributaries and is the only creek in its watershed.
Strawberry Creek has two main tributaries, the North Fork and Hamilton Gulch. The North Fork flows through the neighborhoods of North Berkeley, its watershed comprising 388 acres bounded by Little Grizzly Peak on the east and Rose Street and the main branch of Strawberry Creek to the south. The main branch flows west toward San Francisco Bay after its confluence with the North Fork. Hamilton Gulch is a smaller tributary in the southeast corner of the watershed and is almost completely natural. A number of small tributaries draining canyons and ravines in the hills join Strawberry Creek and Hamilton Gulch. Stormwater routing and stream channel culverting have greatly altered the natural drainage paths throughout the entire Strawberry Creek Watershed.
Schoolhouse Creek is almost entirely culverted under the streets of Berkeley with only a few daylighted sections in residential backyards. Originally the creek flowed into the south end of a large, northward-flowing salt marsh and slough that also carried the waters of Codornices and Marin creeks to San Francisco Bay. West of this marsh, low dunes and a crescent of sandy beach curved northwest to Fleming Point. Today, the marsh has been filled, and the creek is channeled into a pipe that drains into the bay.
Publically accessible hiking, walking, and biking trails provide a wide range of recreational opportunities. UC Berkeley offers an interactive map of the recreational areas along the north fork and Strawberry Creek proper. The mouths of Strawberry and Schoolhouse creeks are located in Eastshore State Park, which is managed by the East Bay Regional Park District. The district’s website contains a variety of information on recreational activities in this area.
A self-guided walking tour created by the University of California, Berkeley covers the central campus of the college and includes a variety of natural areas and restoration project sites. There is also a virtual tour that includes a map and details of key areas along Strawberry Creek.
Parks and Recreation
The UC Botanical Garden is located in Strawberry Canyon above Memorial Stadium. Strawberry Creek runs through the heart of the 34-acre garden and is surrounded by an impressive collection of more than 13,000 different plants. The garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. from fall to spring and 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Strawberry Creek Park, located between Bancroft Way and Addison Street in southwest Berkeley, was the site of one of the first daylighting projects in the United States. The 1984 project uncovered a buried section of creek that now runs through the 3.7-acre park and is bordered by native California plants. The project is often cited as a prime example of successful daylighting and creek restoration efforts. The park’s recreational opportunities include basketball, tennis, volleyball, and picnicking. The north-south path through the park can be walked or bicycled all the way to Richmond via the old railroad grade (now mostly the Ohlone Greenway, along the Bay Area Rapid Transit line).
McLaughlin Eastshore State Park extends 8.5 miles along the East Bay shoreline from the Bay Bridge to Richmond. The mouths of Strawberry and Schoolhouse creeks are both located in this park, which offers a network of pedestrian and bicycle trails. Strawberry Creek reaches the Bay via a large pipe on the south side of University Avenue, a short distance west of I-80. A new Bay Trail extension offers an excellent view of the mud flats at the creek mouth, which are often dense with migrant and wintering shorebirds between fall and spring. Schoolhouse Creek exits its pipe just north of the Virginia Street Extension, which is now a park trail. Tide flats here are another popular fall-to-spring birding area. Local trails connect these creek mouths to the restored Berkeley Meadow and Shorebird Park, Cesar Chavez Park, and Berkeley Marina. On the Bay Trail, walkers and bicyclists can follow the shoreline from Emeryville all the way to the Richmond Marina and Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park.
The Strawberry Creek Restoration Program began in 1987 and coincided with the adoption of the Strawberry Creek Management Plan, which addressed many major issues affecting the creek. Implementation efforts have included point source pollution controls, grade control, stream bank stabilization measures, and riparian and aquatic habitat restoration.
A small section of Strawberry Creek (on Allston Way west of Sacramento Street) was daylighted in 1982, creating Strawberry Creek Park. Large chunks of concrete along the northern bank that were once part of the underground culvert underscore the advantages of creek daylighting. The project has been an inspiration for similar projects throughout the country. Restoration efforts are spearheaded by organizations such as the Ecocity Builders, Friends of Five Creeks, UC Berkeley students and staff, and countless volunteers and community groups. A list of information on restoration projects throughout the upper portion of the Strawberry Creek Watershed can be found here.
Schoolhouse and Strawberry creeks both drain into the bay through McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. Restoration plans were adopted in 2002 for daylighting the creeks in this area to create a small salt marsh that would also reduce the flood danger in West Berkeley. Details of this plan can be viewed here.
There are several volunteer and local community organizations that facilitate volunteer events ranging from general creek cleanups to removing invasive species. These organizations also fund or provide free watershed education programs and resources for residents and teachers in the two watersheds. Please see our list of organizations providing volunteer and educational opportunities for the public.
- Alameda County Clean Water Program
- City of Berkeley Public Works Department
- East Bay Regional Park District – McLaughlin Eastshore State Park
- Ecocity Builders
- Friends of Five Creeks
- Oakland Museum of California’s Guide to Bay Area Creeks
- University of California, Berkeley – Strawberry Creek
- University of California, Berkeley – Environment, Health & Safety