Elizabeth Terwilliger, who passed away in 2006 at the age of 97, was a remarkable woman in many ways. A recent Marinscope profile noted that Mrs. T., as she was lovingly known, was a descendant of Kit Carson, Daniel Boone and James Fenimore Cooper, and “a modern-day trailblazer in the world of conservation and nature education.”
Plus, according to an oral history she recorded in 1972 for the Mill Valley Public Library, she was also a bicycle activist. In these lightly edited excerpts from her conversation with Dorothy Slate, Mrs. T. tells the story of how she crusaded for the Mill Valley-Sausalito Multiuse Path:
We moved [to Mill Valley] from Strawberry so the children could bicycle to school and I wouldn’t have to drive them to everything. We were within easy bicycle range.
One day a mother in Sausalito said to me, “Do you know you can’t bicycle legally from Mill Valley to Sausalito?” Sure enough, as you drive to Sausalito, right there by the Buckeye restaurant is a sign that prohibits pedestrians, cycles and so on (including bicycles) on the freeway. How else could you get to Sausalito without a car? Well, under the Richardson Bay bridge were the railroad tracks. But right there is a sign saying, “Private. Permission to pass revocable,” etc. Then when you come out on the highway, the signs say, “Go back! Wrong way!”
All this meant that no child from Sausalito or Marin City could legally walk or bicycle to high school. Here’s the Division of Highways, telling the parents to get their kids to school the best way they can, but they may not walk, and they may not cycle. I thought, “This doesn’t make any sense. A child should be able to get to school on his own.” I had passed that sign near the Buckeye for years, but it hadn’t meant anything to me. I wondered why I had been so blind.
After visiting offices of the Division of Highways in both San Francisco and Terra Linda, Mrs. T. was referred to the courthouse in San Rafael.
So I called. The lady who answered the phone said, “Mrs. Terwilliger, I know what you’re talking about. I live in Sausalito, and my son goes to Tamalpais High School. He could bicycle to school very easily; it’s level. But the law says no, so it costs me a dollar a day for his transportation.”
I asked her what the fine would be, and she said it would be between $15 and $20, depending on the judge. I asked her who the judges were, and she named three, one of whom was Hadden Roth. Hadden Roth graduated from Tamalpais High School.
“Dear Hadden Roth,” I wrote. “I ‘ve known your mother for 20 years, and I understand you went to Tamalpais High School. Can you help us with this problem? According to the signs, no child from Sausalito can walk or bicycle to Mill Valley or Marin City.”
He wrote to me and said, “Dear Mrs. Terwilliger, I just carry out the laws; I don’t make them. Write to Bill Bagley [State Assemblyman from Marin County].”
Mrs. T. wrote to Bagley, to the State Superintendent of Schools, and to the governor. Then, thinking big, she also contacted her Congressman and the U. S. Secretary of Transportation. But she also kept the pressure on local authorities:
Meantime we explained it to the Tamalpais High School District and the Mill Valley School District.
Then I wrote to the railroad people, asking why we couldn’t have a bicycle path alongside the railroad. They said, “Oh no, the insurance would be too high,” etc.
Pretty soon we were going round and round in a circle and still weren’t getting anywhere. Finally the bicycle people in the county got together and had a big meeting. We decided to meet once a month until something had been done about the problem of a bicycle path. Michael Wornum had gone in as the new county supervisor, and he helped us, and Pierre Joske [Marin County Director of Parks and Recreation] helped us. Meantime I had written to Peter Behr [state Senator from Marin] and asked him to help us.
We had a meeting, with speakers from the Golden Gate Bridge District and from the County; we had Peter Behr; we had Mr. McDevitt from San Francisco—because by then San Francisco was waking up to bicycle paths. So, we had many voices speaking.
Then Mary Mayer of Sausalito said she had a cousin on the board of the railroad. She talked to him, and he was finally convinced that we could put in a path from the high school to the Bait and Tackle Shop outside Sausalito. But just west of Tam Junction you have to cross the creek. Where would we put the bridge and how could we pay for it? Then it occurred to the Water District that they already had a pipe going across there, and they said we could put the foundations for the bicycle path bridge on their foundations. So, we finally got our path put in that far.
At Tamalpais High School the [unincorporated] County line stops and the City of Mill Valley begins. So that’s where the bicycle path stopped! I appealed to the Mill Valley Parks and Recreation Department, and they said the Public Works Department couldn’t do it. I appealed to the mayor, telling him we needed just this short stretch from the high school into Mill Valley. This was finally done; with the widening of Camino Alto the money was appropriated to put the path in there. So, we now have our path, and everybody is gung-ho for it!
The 3.8-mile paved path, stretching from Mike’s Bikes in Sausalito north to East Blithedale Ave. in Mill Valley with views of Bothin Marsh Preserve and Richardson Bay in between, was officially opened 1981. According to the website enjoymillvalley.com, it has become “one of the most popular paths in the entire Bay Area, with more than a half-million people using it between March and November each year,” based on annual WalkBikeMarin Path Counts. And thanks to Mrs. T.