June 21, 2024
Since long before the pole was cut down, the Mission Peak hike has been the center of controversy. The most popular access point is on Stanford Avenue, and for the past decade, there has been a running battle between the wealthy enclave that surrounds that trailhead and the hikers that park in their neighborhood. 

For decades, the “Mission Peeker” pole at the summit of Mission Peak, a mountain just east of Fremont, has been a distinctive symbol of the region — a colorful summit marker and photo destination atop one of the most popular hikes in the entire Bay Area.

Over the years, the pole has served as the backdrop for thousands of photos, a singular point surrounded by the panoramic backdrop of the San Francisco Bay.

But on Saturday morning, it was gone. At some point in the night, it had been unceremoniously sliced in half and tossed two hundred feet down the side of the mountain.

As of now, it’s unclear if it will ever be restored. But even if the pole ceases to serve as a symbol of having struggled up a 2,000-foot trail, it may now come to represent a different battle: the right to access Mission Peak.

“This is not an engineering problem, the technical aspects of welding a pole back together,” said Kelly Abreu, a Fremont resident and member of the Mission Peak Conservancy. “The real issue here is politics.”

Long before the pole was cut down, the Mission Peak hike has been the center of controversy. The most popular access point is on Stanford Avenue, and for the past decade, there has been a running battle between the wealthy enclave that surrounds the trailhead and the hikers that park in their neighborhood.

In an effort to resolve that conflict, the East Bay Regional Park District began opening the park at 6:30 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. A permit parking system was instituted by the City of Fremont on the weekends. In 2016, East Bay Regional Parks discussed building a larger parking lot at the Stanford entrance — which prompted a lawsuit from a group of trailhead neighbors.

Even after all those changes, an average weekend day still brings thousands of hikers to the 6-mile path that climbs to the top of Mission Peak. That’s led to concerns not only about parking, but also safety and environmental degradation.

The Mission Peeker pole is seen by some as a prominent contributor to those crowds. Erected in 1990 by sculptor and former park ranger Leonard Page, the pole was originally designed to promote environmental awareness and earned its name due to the telescope-like sight tubes that pointed to various Bay Area landmarks. Buried beneath it are a group of time capsules, filled with articles, photographs, and an old bottle of Zinfandel. Over the years, the pole has become one of the top tourist attractions in Fremont.

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Eric Calande, a Newark resident who hikes Mission Peak several times a week, said he could hardly believe his eyes when he reached the summit on Saturday morning and found the pole, which had welcomed his ascent for 10 years, sliced in half.

Some think it’s possible that the vandals were searching for the time capsules, but Calande thinks it’s unlikely – the capsules are well known to be beneath the pole, not inside it. Nor would it make sense that they would take the time to toss the top half of the pole, which could weigh upwards of 80 pounds, off the side of the hill. Calande, who works as a handyman, estimated that the steel was close to a quarter-inch thick, and that it would have taken a circular saw and two or three fully charged battery packs to cut the pole down.

Given the controversy that has surrounded the hike over the years, he believes the pole itself might have been the target.

“The neighbors down below are not too happy about the crowds, and there’s been talk for years about removing that pole,” Calande said. “It makes me wonder if someone didn’t take it upon themselves to get up there and do it.”

According to parks department, the top half of the pole has been recovered and is now in “safe storage.” It is unclear if there are any immediate plans to replace the pole. In 2014, the East Bay Regional Parks Department and the City of Fremont Recreation department discussed moving or removing the pole in part to ward off potential sightseers.

The City of Fremont had not responded to requests for comment by press time.

For those who hike and care about Mission Peak, there is no question that the pole should be restored. In their view, it is a symbol of Fremont — no different than a monument in front of city hall. They believe it’s the first step in ensuring freedom of access to a park intended for the public.

“The visitors, our society, our community have designated this as a cultural monument,” Abreu said. “But people have an issue with the park. The pole is just a political symbol.”