Tennessee Hollow Watershed

Categories Nature and Science , Recreation and Wellness

​Download the Tennessee Hollow Self-​Guided Watershed Walk >>

​The Tennessee Hollow Watershed is not so much a place as an experience – or rather a collection of experiences. The park's largest watershed encompasses most of the eastern Presidio, a whopping 270 acres, or 20 percent of the park. It begins with springs near the Presidio Gate; the waters then flow north through three creeks before disappearing into Crissy Marsh and San Francisco Bay. This beautiful valley features residential neighborhoods, endangered native plants, forests, trails, playing fields, public art, and historic treasures. A trail walk here showcases so much of what is wonderful about the Presidio.

Two Centuries of Change​​

Tennessee Hollow was once a patchwork of streams and seasonal wetlands, grasslands, coastal scrub, and shifting sand dunes. The first people to drink its waters were likely the Yelamu Ohlone, whose seasonal camps have been discovered nearby at Crissy Field. After the Spanish arrived in 1776 and established the Presidio (on what today we call the Main Post), the valley was grazed by cattle. Three decades later, a colonial settlement made up of Spanish, Mexican, and Native American families formed around El Polín Spring, which was occupied from 1812 through the 1850s. Its most famous resident was Juana Briones.

After the U.S. Army took over the Presidio in 1846, it planted cypress and eucalyptus and moved the creeks into dams and underground channels to make room for a growing military. Tennessee Hollow was named in 1898 to honor the 1st Tennessee Regiment, volunteer soldiers who camped here before shipping out to the Philippines for the Spanish-American War. The watershed later served as temporary housing for San Franciscans after the 1906 earthquake. By the 1930s, neighborhoods had sprung up, and in the 1960s apartment buildings arrived when the U.S. Army expanded during the Cold War. As a result, only small pockets of riparian habitat remained.

Restoring Tennessee Hollow

For more than a decade, revitalization has been underway within the Tennessee Hollow Watershed. Creeks are being brought back above ground, native habitat is being restored, U.S. Army landfills have been removed, trails and playing fields are being upgraded, and the history of those who once lived here is being shared. Volunteers are key to this ongoing work.​

Visiting the Tennessee Hollow Watershed

Download the Tennessee Hollow Self-​Guided Watershed Tour >>

Given its size, there are a lot of different ways to experience the Tennessee Hollow Watershed. Start your day at Inspiration Point​,​ then head down into the valley on the Ecology Trail​. El Polín Spring​, right in the heart of the watershed, is a wonderful place to linger, learn about the area's first residents, enjoy a picnic, and birdwatch. Continue your journey on the (partially completed) Tennessee Hollow Trail​ all the way to Crissy Field. Lovers' ​​Lane offers another great vantage point.