Permanent Courses at Shell Ridge Open Space
By Judy Koehler (February 15, 2009)
This is the first in a series of articles on the "in's and out's" of the permanent courses available to Bay Area orienteers. Permanent courses can be a big help to those who want stress-free practice or those wanting more experience for upcoming COOL or scouting events.
The first park to be reviewed is Shell Ridge Open Space in Walnut Creek, because the courses are the easiest technically and physically, and can be completed in an hour at a slow walk. The first step is to print off the map from the BAOC Web site, baoc.org (look for Permanent Courses on the left-hand side of any page).
Generic instructions on what the markers look like, and the basics on how to navigate, can be found in the information for the permanent courses at Briones Regional Park in Martinez. In the instructions for any of those courses, look at steps 2 through 6.
You will need a pen or pencil (crayons for children) to mark your map at each control. Use the restrooms at home, bring your own water, and be prepared to encounter dogs off leash.
There are two permanent courses at Shell Ridge: White and Yellow. Both are beginner courses and similar in difficulty. Both navigate in the same direction, but do not share any controls. This allows for children to have their own course, but still be easily supervised. The Yellow course requires twice navigating from a fire road onto a foot trail, and has several controls just off the trail (including #1).
While the fire roads and foot trails in this section of Shell Ridge Open Space are very distinct and in great shape, the same cannot be said for the numbering on the controls. There is a mix of original numbers and replacement plaques with letters on the posts. Some have numbers missing, the letters are faint on some, and nothing is discernible on some controls (such as White #4 and #5). When you come to one of these controls, just "tick" the clue on your map after first checking, of course, that you are at the right spot. After all, this is just practice.
Just as the controls have aged, so has the park's natural features. The vegetation boundary at White #6 is now above the oak tree, and the seasonal watercourse at White #7 can be seen only by looking across the path under the trees. Yellow #6 is no longer overgrown, so look for the SW side of the re-entrant.
This is a great park to not "shadow" the children, but instead to supervise "from above". An adult can position them self 1/3 of the way up the hill above White #1, and see the children start themselves at the Start/Finish control next to the Sutherland Drive entrance sign board. Then the adult can then move across the side of the hill (follow the line of white cylinders on the trees) ending up at the oak tree on top of the cliff above Yellow #1. From this viewpoint they can see down to White #2 and #3, and Yellow #1 and #2. They can also validate that a child on the Yellow course made the turn toward Yellow #3. The path is distinct and there are no choices from there but to end up at Yellow #4. The adult should then move west along the open hillside, staying parallel to the creek, but maintaining enough elevation to see White #4, #5, and #6. Dressing the child in a distinctive hat or a brightly colored shirt will help. When the child on the White course is headed for #6, drop down to the clearly visible trail that parallels the creek (the trail is new and not on the map), and meet the children at White #7 and Yellow #4.
The next section requires a different approach. After the child on the Yellow course turns down the foot trail (at Yellow #5), continue up the fire road shadowing the child on the White course. After reaching the intersection at White #8, stop and wait for the child on the Yellow course to come walking toward you. If they don't come in a reasonable time, walk up the fire road past Yellow #8. This will be the fastest way to see if they failed to make the correct turn at Yellow #7. It is then a short distance to shadow the children through their final controls and back to the Start/Finish marker.
If there are two adults, there are several choices depending upon the number of children. The adults can move in tandam, or leapfrog each other to the various supervisory points mentioned. Or the second adult can go backwards on the course from the Start/Finish, and supervise the second half of the courses.
If the children are young or first-time orienteers, then "shadowing" can still be done with each child having their own course. Looking at the two maps together shows that the two courses can be combined by making only one route change. Instead of continuing from Yellow #3 to Yellow #4, retrace your steps to the fire road by the lake.
Above all, enjoy, be safe, have fun, repeat.