BERKELEY -- As Cal football fans celebrate the opening of their renovated $321 million stadium in the season opener against Nevada on Saturday, a group of environmentalists who fought the project for nearly two years look back with a sense of both sadness and success.

"It's still very painful to go by there, but I am happy for the trees that are still there" said Julie Dickinson, referring to a small forest the university cut down to build the stadium and the adjacent $153 million student athlete training center.

Dickinson was part of a group who helped feed a rotating team of protesters who lived in the trees for almost two years.

"What I see is that the university wasted a lot of money and killed a lot of trees," she added.

The group became known as the "tree-sitters."

Saturday's opening day at the new stadium coincides with the end of the protest almost four years ago when the last of four tree-sitters came down and were arrested.

In addition to battling the protesters 24-hours a day, the university fought and won three lawsuits over the two projects that were brought on grounds the stadium and the training center were detrimental to the environment, flouted seismic safety norms and would bring more noise and traffic to the area.

Zachary RunningWolf, a Berkeley activist and mayoral candidate who was the first to climb one of the trees, stayed up there for 50 days before coming down. During the protest, he was arrested 16 times. He too will be at Saturday's game, but he won't be rooting for the home team. He said he probably will end up in jail before the day is through.

Even though the 21-month protest, which ended on Sept. 5, 2008 with the sound of chain saws cutting down giant trees, all was not lost, he said Wednesday.

The group brought worldwide media attention to the importance of trees, he said.

"By the third day, as I was sitting in my chair in the tree, we were conducting interviews from 8 a.m. to midnight," RunningWolf said. "It was international. People were tracking it in Africa."

Despite the positive attention it brought to trees, he calls the destruction of the redwoods and the oaks a "hate crime" perpetrated against the memory of WWI veterans the trees were planted for and to Native Americans he claims are buried underneath them.

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, a former Cal football player who started as a right offensive end in the 1959 Rose Bowl, said he is going to Saturday's game and is excited to see the new stadium. As someone who joined the fight against the removal of the trees and the building of the training center, he too says all was not lost.

"We would have preferred to save the trees and not have the training center built where it is, but they are going to replant the trees and we will monitor that," Bates said. "And as things worked out, the city got what it wanted. They were going to build a 500-spot parking lot, which they didn't; they were going to turn Bowles Hall into an executive business center, which they didn't; and they made the stadium safer."

Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, now 77, climbed into a tree for an hour with Save the Bay founder Sylvia McLaughlin, now 94, and former Berkeley City Councilwoman Betty Olds to protest removal of the trees.

"I'm sorry they didn't protect those trees," Dean said. "They were going to plant all these trees to replace the ones they cut down, and nobody has told me anything about that. And there are now so many unanswered questions about the financing of the stadium. I'm sure it's a marvelous facility, but the city should be asking these questions about the trees and the financing."

Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.

TIMELINE
Dec. 2, 2006: The tree-sit begins. In the pre-dawn hours before the Cal-Stanford football game, three people, including Zachary RunningWolf climb into the trees, calling on UC Berkeley to choose an alternative location for the sports training center.
Dec. 5, 2006: UC Regents Grounds and Buildings Committee approves plans for a new $125 million sports training center at the site of a grove of more than 40 trees, a project whose price tag grew to $153 million.
Dec. 19, 2006: The city of Berkeley files a lawsuit challenging UC Berkeley's plans. Similar lawsuits are filed that month by The Panoramic Hill Association and The California Oak Foundation. The cases are subsequently consolidated into one.
Jan. 29, 2007: Alameda Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller issues a temporary injunction barring UC Berkeley from proceeding with construction of the center.
Feb. 21, 2007: American Indian leaders from around the Bay Area call for preservation of what they call a sacred burial ground, saying Memorial Stadium and the oak grove is an archaeological site.
March 21, 2007: More than 75 people pose nude at the Memorial Oak Grove in a TreeSpirit Project photo with photographer Jack Gescheidt.
Aug. 29, 2007: UC-hired work crews put up the first chain-link fence surrounding the tree-sit encampment. UC administration says the fence is intended to protect tree-sitters from football fans arriving for the Bears' season opener, and fans from tree-sitters.
Sept. 12, 2007: After numerous citations and arrests of tree-sitters and their supporters, UC Berkeley asks a judge to order the removal of the tree-sitters. Alameda Superior Court Judge Richard Keller denies the request. The trial on the three consolidated cases challenging the sports training center goes before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Miller.
Oct. 1, 2007: Keller grants a civil injunction against one named tree-sitter, David Galloway, but denies UC's request to apply the injunction on unnamed individuals. The injunction bars Galloway from sitting, standing or otherwise being in the trees. The judge later expands his injunction to include unnamed people acting in concert with named tree-sitters. Tree-sitters say they will not leave until the grove is safe from destruction, even if it means the possibility of being fined and jailed.
Nov. 8, 2007: UC work crews put up a second chain-link fence around the tree grove. Both fences are topped with barbed wire.
Feb. 19, 2008: University-hired arborists to remove tree-sitters' traverse lines, waste buckets, wooden platforms and pullies from the treetop village.
March 20, 2008: Testimony in the consolidated lawsuits continues before Miller in a Hayward courtroom.
June 18, 2008: Miller rules in favor of UC Berkeley in a 129-page ruling but asks for clarification on a few items in the university's plans to build the sports center. Over the next few days, UC removes a few tree-sitters who don't put up a fight. Arborists also remove wooden platforms, pullies and tarps from the treetop village.
July 17, 2008: UC Berkeley officials go before Miller with their clarifications, hoping to get their injunction lifted. A ruling in favor of Cal comes within the next week. Opponents promise an appeal, and the Panoramic Hill Association and the California Oak Foundation follow through. The city of Berkeley does not join the appeal.
Aug. 26, 2008: The state court of appeals rules that an injunction will stay in place for several weeks. Tree-sitters stay put. Two citizen groups file a motion for a new trail in Superior Court. It is denied.
Sept. 4, 2008: Thursday: Appeals court denies request for new injunction.
Sept. 8, 2008: University begins cutting down trees.
Sept. 9, 2008: Last of four tree sitters are arrested