Noe Valley Voice March 1999

Seeds of Improvement at Upper Noe Park

By Mark Robinson

The grass is greener -- or soon will be-- on the other side of a makeshift fence at Upper Noe Park and Recreation Center.

City workers installed a three-foot barricade topped with yellow "caution" tape last month to prepare for rejuvenating the park's rutted, patchy field. If all goes well, fresh grass will be planted in March, and the ball diamond and soccer pitch will be ready for play by early April, said Barton Mayhew, a maintenance supervisor with the city's Recreation and Park Department.

The recreation center, also known as Day Street Park, takes up most of the block bounded by Sanchez, Day, Church, and 30th streets. Nearby residents and school kids often come for games and picnics or to jog around the field. The park is also a popular spot for dog owners, who regularly bring their pets for exercise and socializing. In the spring and summer, the yard is heavily used by youth and adult baseball and softball leagues.

According to Mayhew, the field hasn't been aerated, dressed, leveled, and reseeded in more than five years.

He said the city decided to fence the field this year to ensure that it wouldn't be trampled -- by people or dogs -- while the work was under way. In years past, the area has simply been marked with a sign saying "Field Closed."

"Whenever the field is used when it's wet, it causes damage," he said. "So we decided to take a more aggressive approach this year."

Spiffing up the field is just one piece of a larger effort to improve the park. Last year, neighbors formed a group called Advocates for Upper Noe Recreation Center. They recently applied for a $400,000 grant to replace the main play structure in the children's sandbox area, as well as fix the bathrooms and improve wheelchair accessibility to the park.

The grant, which would come from the city's open space fund, has been given "priority one" status by city officials but hasn't yet been approved, said Alison Pence, an active member of the group.

Other projects on the drawing board include installing a new water fountain, erecting signs to identify the park, obtaining a computer for use by the kids at the recreation center, and painting over a mural that had been defaced by graffiti. The city's Arts Commission has approved the overpainting of the mural.

"Eventually, we'd like a couple of million [dollars] to redo the whole park," Pence said, noting that the recreation center needs a new roof and other structural improvements. "You can't imagine how heavily used that place is."

Matt Steinle, a dog owner who lives on Clipper Street, agrees that Upper Noe gets a lot of foot and paw traffic. Like dozens of other local pet owners, he was forced to seek an alternative when the yellow tape went up in early February. He now takes his dog Midnight for runs at Fort Funston. (Douglass Park, at the upper end of 27th Street, also has a city-sanctioned dog trail.)

Still, he is looking forward to seeing the fence come down at Upper Noe. Dog owners like the field there, he said, because it is large, level, and fenced, making it safer for pets to roam free. It also has a blacktop and tennis court separating it from the children's playground.

But Steinle said dog owners are worried that they might be barred from the field once it's reopened. Officially, dogs are not allowed to run off-leash in the park, but Rec and Park rarely enforces the rule.

Finding facilities where Fido can catch frisbees in San Francisco has become more difficult in recent years as authorities have cracked down on unleashed dogs at city parks and in national recreation areas. Last year, parents and dog owners in Noe Valley clashed over the issue at Noe Courts, the small park at the corner of Douglass and 24th streets. When the city threatened a ban on dogs in the park, pet lovers marched down 24th Street carrying protest signs.

"It hasn't been that controversial at Upper Noe," said Steinle. "There has always been a tacit understanding that it's okay for dogs."

But once the field is reopened, it might be a good idea to create a more explicit arrangement, he said -- one that would allow dog walking during certain hours, perhaps in the morning and at dusk.