Written by Vivien Kim Thorp Thursday, 31 May 2012 17:09
Marin City, sandwiched between the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Richardson Bay, is surrounded by amazing natural beauty. However, despite this proximity, residents of this former shipbuilding town don’t have many local options for enjoying the outdoors. A lack of trailheads on one side and the lanes of Highway 101 on the other have blocked access to both. For many years, the one-acre Rocky Graham Park, which lies at the town’s center, was Marin City’s only patch of public greenery; it was closed for lack of maintenance in 1995.
This past year, many of California’s parks, likewise mired in years of deferred maintenance, have been looking at a similar fate. Recent budget cuts of $22 million slated 70 state parks for closure this July. While many have been “spoken for” by donors and organizations, their fates beyond the immediate future, as well as that of the greater statewide system, waver uncertain.
At the Bay Area Open Space Council’s annual conference, held in the Presidio on May 11, the plight of the state parks was mentioned in almost every speech, slideshow, and even a song. However, along with the concern there was also celebration — tales of success spurred on by generations of concerned Northern Californians, offering inspiration for the future of conservation in California.
According to a report by the California Coastal Conservancy, during the past 15 years, 85,000 acres of wildlife habitat, open space lands, and ranches have been added to the Bay Area’s roster of protected lands, including areas surrounding Mount Diablo, one of the highest peaks in the Bay Area, and the King-Swett Ranches, bordering the cities of Benicia, Vallejo, and Fairfield.
Work on hundreds of regional projects has also meant the protection of more than 35,000 acres of tidal wetlands, nearly doubling the region’s tidal marshes. Endangered species have recovered in areas such as the South Bay Salt Ponds, while urban projects like one in Oakland’s Lake Merritt have improved flood protection and created healthier habitats. Restoration work has revived 50 creeks and rivers, including the retrofit of the 99-year-old Zinfandel Lane Bridge, which brought Chinook salmon and steelhead trout back to 65 miles of the Napa River, and improved the health of the Bay Area’s watershed.
In addition, the three regional trails — the San Francisco Bay Trail, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and the region’s segment of the California Coastal Trail — have collectively grown by 200 miles. And since its launch in 2005, the Bay Area Water Trail project has begun creating access points for kayaks, dragon boats, paddleboards, and other non-motorized watercraft across the Bay (see box below).
New public education centers sit on sites like Heron Head Park, a former San Francisco landfill that now has trails and restored marshlands, and the Ano Nuevo Marine Education Center, which attracts 200,000 annual visitors who come to watch the park’s protected Northern Elephant Seals mate and give birth.
And then there is Marin City and Rocky Graham Park. In 1999, residents teamed up with the Trust for Public Land to protect more than 90 acres on the ridge that abuts the town, offering the chance, finally, for residents to access the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. And then, in 2008, four years after residents signed a petition to save their park, the Legislature designated $5 million for its revival. The plans, which include a lawn, a playground, and an amphitheater, also look toward restoring nearby civic buildings that have fallen into disrepair. Supporters hope to celebrate the reopening of Rocky Graham Park in 2014.
Together, the two projects have created what Marin City Community Services District General Manager Johnathan Logan, Jr. called a “great nature network.” And looking to the future, the plans buoy the idea that access is as much a part of the conservation movement’s goals as acquisition and funding.
The Trust for Public Land agrees. Referring to exponential growth in health problems like diabetes and hypertension, the organization, which aims to ensure everyone lives in walking distance of a great green area, says these issues have broadened the scope of the conservation community. The health of people and communities are tied to the health of open spaces and parklands.
Toward the close of the conference, Jon Christensen, executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University, echoed these concerns: “We’ve procured, reserved, and preserved these spaces,” he said. “Is that where it ends?” The world population is expected to grow an estimated two to three billion in the next 40 years, he said, with the most growth happening in urban areas. Conservationists need to continue creating, encouraging, and teaching, and do this for all lands — from the urban and suburban, to the forests, ranches, and wilderness.
Bringing the Bay Together: Four Public Trails Offer Works in Progress
The plan for the San Francisco Bay Trail, a 500-mile shared pedestrian and bicycle trail along the San Francisco and San Pablo bays, was approved in 1989. The 500-mile trail aims to connect existing parks and recreational areas with urban, residential, and industrial landscapes along the waterfront, appealing to joggers and commuter cyclists alike. So far, 325 miles of the trail have been completed.
Hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding are the three ways to work your way around this 550-mile long-distance loop, which will dip as far south as Mt. Madonna, near Gilroy, and as far north as Hood Mountain in Sonoma County. The route has continually expanded since its inception in 1989, bringing together existing open space lands with new parkland acquisitions and trail constructions. So far, 340 miles of the trail have been completed.
The trail, which winds along the entire California coastline, was conceived in 1972. Of the 1,200 miles that will stretch down the state, more than half have been completed. At its completion, the San Francisco Bay Area will include 170 of these miles, with stops along Bodega Bay, the Presidio, and Muir Beach. With 137 miles of the trail completed in the Bay Area, only 33 miles remain to finish off this region.
Launched in 2005, the water trail is an ambitious project to give greater access to the Bay. The network of trails would allow small, non-motorized watercraft — such as canoes, kayaks, kiteboards, and stand-up paddleboards — greater access to parklands and accommodations for multi- and single-day trips. The accompanying Web site will offer trail maps, safety tips, and information about wildlife and natural habitats. Tidewater Boating Center in Oakland and Angel Island have been officially designated the project’s first two of a potential 100 “trailheads.”