Remembering Ruth Armstrong, co-founder of Berkeley Path Wanderers
Ruth Armstrong – artist, community activist and co-founder of Berkeley Path Wanderers – died on January 24 at age 71 in Cambria, California. Co-founder Jacque Ensign credits Ruth with the idea of a group of like-minded citizens dedicated to managing public roads and stairs in Berkeley.
“In 1997, Ruth posted a flyer for a meeting at the North Berkeley Library and a good-sized group showed up,” Ensign recalled; Among the attendees was sitting board member Betty Olds, who has been a strong supporter of the effort. In 1998, the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association was started by four women: Ruth, Jacque Ensign, Pat DeVito and Eleanor Hall Gibson. Jacque also credits Ruth with coming up with the group’s name, as Ruth had hiked for years in Germany as a child and latched onto the German word for hike: wander.
Ruth Armstrong was born and raised in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles. She attended UCLA then moved north to Berkeley to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College of Art, CCA) where she graduated with honors in 1975.
This story was first published by the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association
Ruth married and had two sons, Damian and Alex Moskovitz, who grew up roaming the Berkeley Hills near their family home near Codornices Park. Ruth hiked almost every day, everywhere – not just on the trails, but also on the trails in Tilden Park. Damian remembers exploring with his mother, looking for stairs and hidden public paths. There were no trail maps at this time, and many trails in the hills had municipal property set aside for them but were never built. Public roads had no signage and many were blocked by the fences of nearby houses, making them impassable. Creating a map of city streets, parks and all public roads (built and unbuilt) became one of the driving missions of the BPWA.
Building community in city parks was also one of Ruth’s passions, and she used her artistry to design inventive play structures for parks without playgrounds for young children. Damian remembers his mother’s beautifully designed models for children’s playgrounds at Live Oak, Codornices and Glendale-La Loma parks. Ruth’s quiet, behind-the-scenes, but highly effective lobbying skills persuaded the City of Berkeley to go ahead with her plans to build the playgrounds, which are much used and loved to this day.
Ruth’s friend at the time, Teri Gerritz, remembers Ruth as “a free-spirited legend, short in stature but loud-talking without being loud; an artist who enjoyed creating and encouraging others in outdoor functional art for the good of the community.
In the early 2000s, Ruth moved to the village of Cambria to care for her elderly mother and decided to make it her new home. She continued to be a hardworking artist inspired by the natural world. A Cambrian, Tom Cochrun, wrote of her friend Ruth: “She introduced people. She was a wonder at pairing people up with new friends. It was Ruth’s job to make sure everyone knew each other.
Last year, the city of Berkeley named four public paths for the four BPWA co-founders. Ruth’s son, Damian, reports that his mother was thrilled and very proud of the honor. You can walk Ruth Armstrong Path, a pedestrian continuation of Walnut Street between Hearst Avenue and Berkeley Way. Brand new signs were recently placed at each end of the path.
Now in its 24th year, the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association is forever indebted to Ruth Armstrong for her love of public trails and for her visionary leadership that continues with today’s dedicated stewards.