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Hayward mayor Mike Sweeney discusses new improvments proposed for Eden Greenway Park in Hayward October 31st, 2007. (Mike Lucia/Daily Review)
HAYWARD — The Eden Greenway has never been considered a poster child of Hayward recreation spots.

It meanders beneath humming, buzzing, high-voltage Pacific Gas & Electric transmission lines.

It is difficult to get from one end of the 3-mile greenway to the other — with obstacles such as railroad tracks, major roads and the sound wall-protected Interstate 880 in the way.

It is not much more than 30 acres — minuscule compared to the expansive greenbelt of hiking trails that surround more affluent homes in the Hayward hills.

And it remains incomplete, despite its first phase being developed in 1971. One stretch between Hesperian Boulevard and Industrial Boulevard is actually just a fenced-off dirt lot that extends for about a mile behind homes on Sleepy Hollow Avenue.

But for a few thousand Hayward residents living in several neighborhoods, the Eden Greenway serves as one of the biggest plots of nearby public green — a place with its own set of memories and little-known amenities. And judging by all the toddlers climbing around playgrounds, teenagers playing basketball or gossiping and adults taking power walks, something about the greenway seems to be working.

Some also see room for improvement.

On a tour through the park's eastern end late last month, Mayor Mike Sweeney observed the good and the bad of a park he has known for decades.

Good: Basketball courts, tot parks, well-maintained adjacent houses and a fair number of people out and about. Bad: Gang graffiti, unkempt and poorly built apartment properties rubbing up against the park, lack of vegetation in certain areas.

The Eden Greenway bisects Hayward on a mostly east-west axis from Hesperian to Whitman Street, covering about three miles and passing through neighborhoods including the Jackson Triangle, Schafer Park and Southgate. At Southgate, it also balloons out into Southgate Park for a few blocks.

Eric Willyerd, general manager of the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District, which leases the land from PG&E, said the Eden Greenway has gone through 11 expansion phases since 1971 but was never quite finished.

Along with the fenced-off area between Hesperian and Industrial, there are other unrealized spots. Some, such as the eight lanes of I-880, are difficult to do anything about, although there is a pedestrian bridge about 200 yards south of the park that bicyclists use to get from one side of the freeway to another.

Other ideas for improvement have more potential but have never been park district or city priorities.

"Getting across the tracks (west of Soto Road) and that little creek there has never been pushed," Willyerd said. Ideally, he said, the pathway would connect pedestrians from the hills all the way to the Bay.

The greenway has not been completely static in this decade. In 2003, the city put $60,000 into replacing playground equipment near Soto Road. A little more than a year ago, a partnership between the Golden State Warriors basketball team and real estate developer KB Home led to the renovation of a basketball court where the greenway intersects with West Harder Road and Cypress Avenue.

And on Thursday, the Hayward Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve a townhome complex along the Eden Greenway at Berry Avenue.

Although not actually within the park's boundaries, the property is nestled at the park's eastern endpoint next to a tot lot and across the street from the Hayward Community Gardens — which have occupied the PG&E right of way at Whitman Street since 1975.

City planners say the 12-home complex, which replaces an older house and detached garage, should be an improvement to the area.

"Some people will think it's enhancing it just having eyes out on the greenway," said David Rizk, Hayward's planning department manager.

Covered porches will face the greenway to take advantage of the park's open space.

Some of what has kept the Eden Greenway low on the city's priority list are the looming PG&E towers, which make the park experience less than desirable for some. Others are concerned with personal safety.

Carolina Abatayo, who lives on Flamingo Avenue in the Schafer Park neighborhood, said she enjoys walking through the greenway but is troubled by nighttime youth activity in the part of the park that slides between Bishop and Regal avenues.

"I've seen a lot of junior and high school kids going in there," she said.

She has invited Sweeney and neighbors to a community meeting at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 to talk about some of the issues at Schafer Park School.

And then there are some lifelong Hayward residents who have never heard of the park.

Avid rollerblader and Fairway Park homeowner Keven Fitzgerald, who has lived in Hayward for most of his life, said the city suffers from a lack of recreational pathways.

Fitzgerald said he sometimes rollerblades through a two-block stretch of Union City but wishes there was something "special" and closer to home. He was unfamiliar with the Eden Greenway.

"Look at Fremont. It's got Lake Elizabeth," Fitzgerald said. "Hayward's just got nothing, you know? I don't think it would be that difficult to put together a track for Hayward. But I wouldn't know how to do it."

Greenways have been popular in the Bay Area for decades, with some facing more challenges than others. Park planners point to the Ohlone Greenway, which follows the BART tracks through North Berkeley, El Cerrito and Richmond, as a successful urban greenway that attracts a crowd of pedestrians every day.

And an Oakland-based design firm, Urban Ecology, is proposing to create an East Bay BART Greenway along the BART tracks stretching from Lake Merritt to as far as Hayward and Fremont. The plan faces similar challenges as the Eden Greenway — freeways, railroad tracks and lots of existing housing.