A Brief Historic Overview of Mill Valley’s Steps, Lanes, and Paths:
During and directly after Mill Valley’s 1900 incorporation, a system of steps, lanes, and paths was developed to help many of Mill Valley’s residents as they made their way on foot or horseback downtown to catch the train or ferry into San Francisco. Initially, most paths were unnamed or given unofficial names; it wasn’t until 1931 when the Board adopted its “Official Street Naming and Numbering Map” that many of the paths finally received names and numbers.
Mill Valley’s network of paths was created piece by piece as land was sold and developed, so some paths benefited from more strategic planning and placement than others. Still, the routes served Mill Valley’s residents well for years as they made their way up and down the mountain, visiting with neighbors or heading home. Often, the responsibility for the upkeep of the trails traditionally fell to the residents of the surrounding area. Generous Mill Valley residents would gather together to clear brush, weed, and do basic repairs on the routes as funds from the town became available.
Once the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, automobiles began to infiltrate the formerly pedestrian Mill Valley. As more citizens began to drive cars paths were less frequented and a number fell into disrepair, covered by brambles or rocks, while others succumbed to the elements and were worn away. Periodic attempts were made to preserve the paths over the next 63 years, though due to a variety of circumstances, very few paths remained in passable condition.
Since 2000, ongoing efforts have been made to reclaim and promote Mill Valley’s incredible network of paths. With the effort and support of Mill Valley’s residents, city council, parks and recreation staff, emergency preparedness committee, fire department, planning department, students from Tam High, Mt. Tamalpais School, and Saint Hilary’s, Dipsea Race participants, along with organizations such as the Rotary Club, Step-By-Step Volunteers, Outdoor Art Club members, the Mill Valley Historical Society, the Boy Scouts, Old Mill PTA, 21 public paths have been reopened.
The fire department has marked a number of streets with a blue “E” symbol as emergency escape routes, many of which can be accessed via a set of steps, a lane, or a path.
The Numbering System:
The first 76 numbered paths follow Mill Valley’s topography, starting on Miller Ave with Willow Path (path #1) and working north up along Miller through Cascade Canyon before crossing over Summit Ridge and travelling down Blithedale Canyon to the Alto Bowl area. These initial paths were catalogued in 1925 by Will Falley, Mill Valley’s first city manager. Later paths, numbering 101 and on, were catalogued by several different sources. Gaps in the numbering system are the result of different records being passed on from one source to another or paths which are not included in the current Mill Valley Steps, Lanes, and Paths map.
~Compiled from the official Guide map of Mill Valley Steps, Lanes, and Paths, 3rd ed. (The complete map can be purchased at the circulation desk for the hefty sum of $5)
You may also be interested in Robert Skip Sandberg’s Steps, Lanes, and Paths of Mill Valley.