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Reflections of Coal Mine Ridge

CMR Oral History - Jane Ames

Jane Ames.jpg

Jane Ames, longtime former resident of Portola Valley and first Chair of the town Trails Committee, led the three-year-long volunteer project to build Toyon trail, closely following Herb Dengler's inspired design. In this interview she speaks eloquently of her role and the work of others in the creation of Toyon trail as well as the development of other trails on Coal Mine Ridge.  Her descriptions help bring to life the contributions of many whose names have become part of the history of the early days of Portola Valley.

00:00 / 42:12

Excerpts of Discussion with Jane Ames

What in your early life led to your role building Toyon trail?


I moved to Marin county with my family and in high school my gal friends loved to hike, and we would hike up on Mt. Tamalpais which was a beautiful system of trails built by [the] CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] during the hard years of the great depression, and I loved that, of course. So trails and being outdoors were indelibly imprinted in me early on. But it had seemed to me, especially up on Mt. Tamalpais, there was a trail called Hoo-Koo-E-Koo, an old Indian name, and probably an old Indian trail, and it was a beautiful narrow trail traversing around the mountain toward the sea. And one year I came up there and to my horror they had bulldozed it, for whatever reasons they felt they needed to do that, and some of the other trails were decaying. So in those years I could see no new trails being built. It seemed to me there was a lot of loss and there was a wasteland of [a] future without trails.

How did the design and building of Toyon Trail come about?


Toyon trail . . . was not on the original plan. I don't think even think Arroyo was probably, but Joe Whelan was with us to a great extent in planning the trails. He and Herb Dengler had worked on the other trails, like Old Spanish trail, planning it, but Herb had convinced Joe. He said, “Joe, there's this beautiful side hill where I could make a trail that wouldn't have very many switchbacks and would just give a marvelous opportunity to walk above Corte Madera Creek.” You could hear the creek, be in the shade of the trees, and he wanted to have a trail just for walking, in moccasins if possible. Joe Whelan was agreeable to that . . .

. . . about the building of the trail


Toyon trail had to be built with town money and of course we didn't have much, but the trail committee did have a budget for tools and we used . . . a light mattock (mattock shovel), long loppers and clippers, and then pretty soon a member of the trails committee, Elmer Wheaton, [who] was primarily a writer, very inventively created the pickle and he built [them] for us in his workshop. He'd buy a good quality shovel with a solid steel tongue and he'd bend it over, and that turned out to be a fine tool, especially for grooming the upper bank of the trail.


How did Joe Whelan (Portola Valley Ranch developer) contribute to Toyon trail's development? 


. . . But the arroyos continued to be a puzzle. The town certainly did not have money to build a bridge, and here we had marvelous help and appropriate help from Joe Whelan. He had put in without as much as a by-your-leave these beautiful split redwood trunks, which were marvelous material to use up there and so good to walk on, and I hope they're still in place.

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