The Berkeley Path Wanderers Association (BPWA) was founded in 1998 by Ruth Armstrong, Patricia DeVito, Jacque Ensign and Eleanor Hall Gibson, according to John Ford, BPWA’s walk coordinator.
As stated by Ford, BPWA’s mission is to promote, care for, and enjoy the paths and stairways of Berkeley. “(The organization is) community volunteers who work to increase awareness of Berkeley’s pathways through our programs and activities,” stated BPWA’s website. “We offer free guided walks, publish a map of Berkeley’s path network, and build and maintain new paths on previously inaccessible city-owned rights of way.”
According to Janet Byron, BPWA’s president, there are 136 official paths and several dozen more unofficial and unbuilt paths.
“The paths are public rights of way that connect the curvy streets in the Berkeley Hills. Many are concrete with steps, while others are more like trails with wooden steps,” said Byron. “The paths are really important for evacuation purposes in the case of an emergency like a fast-moving wildfire, when it’s not advisable to drive a car.”
Tamara Gurin, a member of the BPWA board, added that the organization also raises funds to pay for the materials and installation of handrails. “None of us (are) paid for the work we do,” said Gurin.
Gurin joined this organization because she’d been walking and enjoying Berkeley paths for 15 years and always felt grateful to those who maintain them for the benefit of all of the Berkeley residents.
“I supported BPWA with my donations for many years,” said Gurin, “but I wanted to do more for this all-volunteer organization, so I decided to join the board. There is a lot of work that we do, but even more needs to be done in order to make our city more walkable and more beautiful.”
According to Gurin, weeding overgrown stairways and adding handrails to steep and narrow paths makes Berkeley more walkable and beautiful. She also noted that steps exposed to rain tend to deteriorate with time, necessitating repairs.
Emma Morris, a volunteer for BPWA, grew up in Berkeley and is an alumni of Berkeley High School. During her childhood, she and her friends were always out and about in Berkeley going to school and elsewhere, getting themselves around by walking.
“I grew up near Rose (and) Shattuck, where I still live, and most of my friends lived in the hills, as far up as Grizzly Peak. We didn’t think twice about walking to each other’s houses, to local parks, and all over Berkeley,” said Morris. “We were always using the paths, which were quite overgrown and neglected at that time, which made them seem like secret passageways that only we knew about. Of course, it turns out a great many people use the pathways and love them as I do.”
During Byron’s time at BPWA, she loved working with a group of volunteers who were dedicated to walking in Berkeley. “I’m amazed by how much we have been able to achieve over the years,” said Byron.
Ford enjoyed the sense of shared appreciation in BPWA. “Being on the board has deepened my sense of community, provided connection to the other board members, and enabled me to share my love of the paths with many others who also love to walk,” he said.
Part of the draw of BPWA is that there is always room for another. As Morris said, “BPWA is always looking for new volunteers! It is one of our founding principles: To always seek new people to join and get involved. That is how you keep things relevant and bring new ideas and energy to the organization.”