Oakland’s “Disappeared” Park: Why Oaklanders Don’t Know Knowland –And Why They Should Get There Before it’s Gone

Some of the crowd at the guided hike in Knowland park on April 15.

Some people, touring Knowland Park for the first time, express astonishment at the idea that the City of Oakland has purposely NOT listed this wonderful park on its Parks and Recreation website list of city parks. We felt the same way when we discovered that the largest remaining open space owned by the city wasn’t listed anywhere, and that there was no signage to help people find the Park and enjoy it. Thinking it surely must be an oversight, we asked our city councilman about it, and he said he would look into it. However, despite repeated queries, we never got an answer. This was about four years ago.

Portions of the document conveying Knowland Park from the State to the City of Oakland, dated March 4, 1975

We emailed the Parks and Recreation staff and asked about it. They responded that Knowland Park was privately owned, not a city park. We sent them the documentation clearly showing that Knowland Park had been transferred to the city from the state. They said they would look into it. Despite repeated queries, the Park is still not on the online list of all of Oakland’s parks.

Knowland Park, despite (or perhaps because of) being the largest, most scenic, and most biologically rich of all Oakland’s parks, has been “disappeared.” About 15 years ago, I remember seeing this big green space on a map of Oakland. My husband and I went to the Zoo entrance to inquire whether we could hike in upper Knowland Park. We were told no. It was only years later that we discovered the Park, after we moved to an area closer to it, and learned that we could have been hiking there all along.

Why would a city “disappear” such a place? Unfortunately, after almost five years of investigating, it has become clear that the City has colluded with Zoo executives to intentionally keep Knowland Park from being discovered by the public—so that the Zoo could develop the land without massive public opposition. A search on the Zoo’s web site, while covering the history of the Park’s transfer to Oakland, describes nothing about the Park itself, suggesting (contrary to the facts) that the intent was always for the Zoo to develop the entire property. But in fact, the transfer agreement specified that the property was always to remain a public park, and Oakland’s Open Space, Conservation and Recreation master plan specifies that the part outside the Zoo was to remain in its natural state.

That’s why we have worked so hard to let people know about this place, and to encourage everyone who values parks and open space to explore it before it is too late.

Some of the trails in the western highlands of Knowland Park.

The public owns Knowland Park. It is a travesty that the City and Zoo have kept the public from discovering it, by neglecting it, refusing to acknowledge its existence, and discouraging visitors. Knowland Park’s beauty should not just be reserved for those who can afford to pay. You can help—by bringing your friends to explore this magical place and sharing the word! Check out the trail route at http://www.saveknowland.org/getting-there/hikes-and-trails/ that helps you see where the Zoo proposes to build. It’s YOUR Park!


Ruth Malone is a resident of Oakland since 1983, a founding member and co-chair of Friends of Knowland Park and a longtime Oakland neighborhood activist. Since 2007, she has been working to educate and organize environmentalists, park users, and community members to protect the park. In her day job, she is a professor of nursing and health policy at University of California, San Francisco, where she helps students study the links between health and political, social and natural environments, and conducts research on the tobacco industry and its efforts to thwart public health efforts worldwide.

Ruth Malone’s Reflections Blog offers a combination of reflective essays and updates from the Protect Knowland Park Campaign, linking the fight to protect Knowland Park to broader environmental and ethical issues.

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2 Responses to Oakland’s “Disappeared” Park: Why Oaklanders Don’t Know Knowland –And Why They Should Get There Before it’s Gone

  1. Tim Rood May 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    Possibly as a result of your efforts, Knowland Park is now listed as one of the City of Oakland’s parks: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/opr/s/Parks/index.htm

  2. Ruth Malone May 2, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    This has obviously finally happened in response to this blog post, because I checked before posting it just to be sure, and it was not there just a couple of days ago! It only took four years of trying and a publicly shaming column to make that happen. Unfortunately, the address listed for Knowland Park is the Zoo’s address, and no information whatsoever is provided about the Park itself, so it still does not give Oakland’s citizens any information about how to actually explore the park as opposed to how to get to the Zoo. But at least they now admit that it is indeed a city Park! Maybe–since they obviously read our blog– they could include a link to this website so that the public can find out how to get to the Park! (We might be able to get that done in another four years…)
    Ruth Malone

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