Friday, August 27, 2010

Napa salt pond restoration - Green Island

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

(click on the blog entry title for a San Francisco Chronicle article; I "borrowed" the map and pictures.)

1,400 acres were added to San Francisco Bay on Wednesday--more than two square miles.  (The pictures show the salt pond levees being broken to reconnect the salt ponds with the Bay.)  One of the great things about my plan to bike all the completed segments of the San Francisco Bay Trail is that I've been paying a lot more attention to the large scale restoration projects that are underway.  I've been cycling on the penninsula where 15,000 acres of salt ponds were purchased in 2004 and where many projects are taking place.

But Cargill Salt (formerly Leslie Salt) also owned thousands of acres in the North Bay, from the Napa River west.  Restoration efforts there got a kick off, ironically, after an oil spill at the Shell refinery in Martinez.

According to the Shell Oil Spill Litigation Settlement Trustee Committee (1990-2001) Final Report, "Late in the evening of April 23, 1988, a tank at the Shell Manufacturing complex in Martinez, filled with hundreds of thousands of gallons of San Joaquin crude oil, began to leak. A hose, designed to drain water from the roof of the tank, failed. Oil began siphoning out into the containment area surrounding the tank. Unfortunately, a storm water release valve had been left open, and the oil continued to drain into a nearby creek, under the freeway, and down into a marsh now called McNabney Marsh. Oil filled the 100-acre marsh to a depth of more than four inches before flowing under the railroad tracks, past the refinery and chemical plant, and finally out into the Carquinez Strait, upstream into Suisun Bay, and, on the next tide, downstream into San Pablo Bay."

"Due to darkness. it took a while before anyone noticed the spill and a while longer to figure out where it had come from. Workers at the Shell wharf were the first to recognize and report oil on the water.  They didn't know, at first, that it had come from a leaking tank on their own property. Before the source of the spill could be located and stopped, about 400,000 gallons of heavy crude oil had leaked out into the environment."
"When the spill was over, the company responsible had paid nearly $11 million to restore damage to natural resources. Initially, this funding was targeted toward restoring 1,000 acres of wetland, protecting and enhancing the marsh most affected by the spill, restoring recreational areas, and developing approaches to protect one threatened species of plant."

"After eleven years, much more was accomplished. Nearly 3,000 acres of wetlands have been restored or enhanced and nearly 11,000 acres of former marsh have been preserved from development and are available for enhancement and eventual full restoration. Shoreline parks have also been expanded and restored. The environmental and recreational gains have been substantial."  Included in the preservation from the spill penalty was the marsh most affected; it's called McNabney Marsh after the late Al McNabney, a leader in the local Mt. Diablo Audubon chapter, who had pushed for decades for its protection.  McNabney Marsh is part of Waterbird Regional Park, just east of Highway 680 just before you reach the Martinez-Benicia Bridge.  The park was acquired with part of the penalty funding.

Like now, the Bay Area was entering a recession. It took several years to plan the projects which would be undertaken with the penalty funding, which by then had grown to more than $17 million.  Although the agencies overseeing conservation projects had hoped to preserve 1,000 acres, the single largest project funded was purchase of 10,000 acres of salt ponds along the Napa River--available at a much reduced price.

On Wednesday one of the last big milestones there was reached when the 1,400-acre Green Island salt pond levees were breached, and bay waters allowed to return, nearly 100 years after the area was first diked off for farming, then salt production.

You can read more about the Shell oil spill penalty projects at: 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SF Bay Trail: Baylands again (Palo Alto)-8-21-10

Saturday 8-21-2010
SF Bay Trail: Penninsula - Baylands (Palo Alto)
6.55 miles SF Bay Trail, 14.45 other miles.

Last Sunday I hiked a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail then a friend and I cycled eight miles in the Baylands in Palo Alto.  I wrote "The Baylands in Palo Alto are the most beautiful bay wetlands I've seen since I moved here in 1981. Bar none."

The first trip we only managed to circle one of 5 or 6 parts.  We started late and there was so much to see.  Six days later I went back.  It was equally beautiful but also different; the first trip was nearing high tide, this one was at low.  Sloughs and open water ponds had shrunk to threads of water and mudflats.

San Francisquito creek
{I'm listening to Pandora while I type this blog entry; a song just came on, "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down, that was used for a friend's memorial video.  Roger Epperson was the Supervisor of three of the parks I work to expand.  He drowned in a kayaking accident in Hawaii and year ago December.  It's equal parts tragedy and reminiscence: . I lead a memorial hike in March that I designed in his honor. Ironically this year's hike helped convince me how much I'd let myself get out of shape.}

Quite a tangent, eh? Well Baylands is also about tangents. Anyone who doesn't allow him or herself to get side tracked is going to miss a lot. It won't matter, there's so much to see.  This is a place to return to over and over.

What is it that's fascinating about marshes?  If you've seen one, you've seen them all, right?  There's not the topography of hills and ridges, it's mostly flat.  There's a great diversity though.  All that flatness is a great foundation for a changing sky, sunrises and sunsets.  Then there's the water--we've got some kind of genetic connection to water, it's just a pleasure to be in it or near it.  Bay marshes have all kinds of varieties of water, creeks, sloughs, ponds, open water, all of influenced by the tides.

And all kinds of marshland from fringes to expanses, freshwater, brackish, to salt, to salt pond.  Wetlands are so productive that they're loaded with life.  You can hike hills all day and not see much wildlife but visiting marshlands without seeing some pretty impressive wildlife is almost unthinkable.  Then there's the unknown; they're connected to the bay and through it to the deep blue sea--almost anything could show up.

I've waded in the shallows only to find dozens of rays (relatives of sharks) swimming around.  I've lay on a dock examing the styrofoam floats, completely covered with invertebrates, anemones, algae, etc.  Kayaked and had a harbor seal surface a few feet away, those quiet, liquid, shy eyes trained on me.  You can imagine the likely things you rarely see, like twelve foot sturgeon, and the unlikely ones, like white sharks and whales.  Best of all, the vanished things returned, like native oysters, spawning herring or, hopefully one day to return, like sea otters.  There were once so many oysters in the bay that dozens of miles of beaches were made of their shell fragments and the indians created huge shell mounds, some of which were sixty feet high and covered hundreds of thousands of square feet.

Last week I started at Terminal Boulevard and San Antonio Road and circled the main Baylands area between Charleston Slough and the Palo Alto airport.  This time I started north, at Embarcadero and Faber in a small industrial park/commercial area.  Embarcadero leads to the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Sand Point.  I wasn't sure I'd have time to bike the two marsh segments to the southeast, bayward of Shoreline Amphitheater, but I wanted to hit the three north of Embarcadero including Ravenswood Open Space Preserve just south of Dumbarton Bridge.  Little did I know.

I'm a smart guy now; bike north first against the wind then use it to make the return trip easier.  Last time I started later and returned on the loop's edge closest to the freeway, with the light almost gone.  This time I'd do the opposite, the less interesting part closest to development first.  As it turns out, I'd end up retracing the exact same route along East Bayshore back to the truck, in the dark, though in reverse, northward against the breeze.

at the Nature Center
I followed Geng Road to San Francisquito creek.  The Bay Trail follows it north, then crosses at an outlet where water dumps into the creek; the main treated wastewater outlet is south at Matadero creek, so I'm not sure what this one was.  It's an interesting creek though, a fringe of wetlands on either side, and native bunchgrasses along the trail.  San Francisquito creek is also the boundary between San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.  Originally it was also the boundary between the lands of the Spanish Missions at San Francisco and Santa Clara.  Higher up the original redwood for which Palo Alto is named still exists on the creek's banks, 1070 years old.  The creek rises to include about 22 tributaries as it climbs into the Santa Cruz mountains.

Along the bay the creek is also the boundary between affluent Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.  The difference is palpable.  The striped paved trail turns east toward the bay, you cross north and the pavement ends as you thread your way behind vacant lots and industrial sites.  Clearly East Palo Alto doesn't have the money of Palo Alto, or doesn't make as big a priority of regional trails.  It's only a matter of time though.  Regional trails blur the lines.

I saw lots of people walking out to the marshlands--in Palo Alto they were white and Asian/Indian often with kids but the kids were never alone, in East Palo Alto they were latino or black and there were a fair number of kids on their own.  My own childhood was like that; we played in the woods and creeks near home by ourselves, sometimes creating trouble but mostly doing fine.  Both kids and adults, no matter what their economic class will be influenced by their experiences.

Sand Point
The wetlands are smaller too, as you head north, though still appreciable in size.  The main part of the Baylands is large, the sloughs are large and a lot of water flows in and out with the tides.  That's more like the bay's natural state, long sinuous channels with many branches and all the variation that includes, mudflats, water, cover for wildlife.  The sloughs are at sea level and dendritic--branched like a tree--and kept open by the tides flowing in and out.  Some are also outlets for streams which rip through the marsh in floods, but a lot of that water is dammed and diverted now.  The shorter and smaller the sloughs the easier it is for them to fill in and for the marsh to be starved of flow.  Water is life, so less flow means less life, fewer nutrients, less force to keep channels open.

stilts and avocet
The marshes have another problem besides size, also related to flow.  Imagine them as mudflat closest to the sloughs and bay, through cordgrass, to pickleweed flats a little higher--literally inches-- in elevation, then grassland a little higher, "upland habitat."  San Francisco Bay's cordgrass marshes, Spartina foliosa, occupy a distinct zone.

In 1973 the Army Corps introduced an Atlantic species of cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, to the bay in an attempt to reclaim marshland.  Maybe it was from an area with much stronger surf and erosive power--it took off in the bay, forming stands so dense as to be sterile for wildlife, catching sediment and extending into the bay in circles of growth that resist erosion, and turning productive mudflats into meadows, choking the dendritic sloughs, threatening to crowd out endangered species, and moving uphill to compete with the picklegrass.

Worst of all, it's hybridized with the native cordgrass to spawn a variety of subspecies.  All of this means that the thousands of acres of salt ponds gradually being restored to the bay could just as likely become non-native cordgrass stands, contributing ever greater numbers of seeds floating out on the tides.  The only way to remove the invaders is labor and to hopefully to catch new stands early, before you need a backhoe or toxic chemicals--which you inevitably also need.

Luckily in 2000 the San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project was formed, and has been having success in getting the problem under control.  It'll be an ongoing effort, to put a fine point on this:  open space acquisition is just the first step.  1) Stewardship (management), especially in an urban area, is ongoing.  2) Introduction of non-native species is bad, bad, bad.

All that to say, I pay close attention to the size of wetlands, and speculate whether they get enough flow to maintain the size of their channels and flow.

When the trail reached Bay Street, just on the verge of entering Ravenswood Open Space Preserve, I was stopped by a ranger because I wasn't wearing a bike helmet.  Zounds! Stopped again on my second try.  Despite my best 'I'm a park professional, can't you look the other way this one time' he held firm.

I wasn't that disappointed.  I want to go back.  Just as I was already plugging into time of day and direction of breeze, this bike ride was really exhibiting the choices related to the tide table.  I'm also starting to pay attention to events and milestone dates of all the restoration that's going on.  I already knew that there are some dates coming up at Ravenswood.  The salt ponds are no longer just "salt ponds" to me...they're Ravenswood, Eden Landing, Alviso, they're pond A-19, A-21, etc.  I now knew that part of the Ravenswood Open Space is north of the Dumbarton bridge by Menlo Park's Bayfront Park, ponds that I thought might still be privately owned.

northern shovelers
On my way across the bridge, on the west side, I could also see what looked almost like a construction site just to the south, with big cranes and raw dirt on the white salted moonscape.  Islands are being created.  240 acres are being enhanced to create a 155-acre pond with 30 islands for nesting and resting shorebirds, and 85 acres of habitat for snowy plovers. (Pond SF-2)  Volunteers have already scattered tons of crushed oyster shells to camouflage the plover eggs from predators.

There's supposed to be a dedication in September 2010 of a new trail segment and at which the levee is to be breached to allow the water in.  When the Ravenswood ponds are fully restored there will be uninterrupted wetlands from Redwood Shores south to Mountain View.  I want to be there, to see the levee being breached and to watch water flowing back into an area that's been imprisoned for decades.

I turned around and retraced my route back to San Francisquito creek, crossed the bridge into Palo Alto and this time turned east on the trail to follow the creek to the bay, and back to the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center.  This part is where I could really see how low the tide was, lots of mudflats exposed, lots of birds feeding on them.  I stopped at the nature center, walked the boardwalk again, rode out to the put in spot on Sand Point.

Then back around the bayward side of the main bulk of Baylands, which I had circled the week before, but this time when I got to the head of Charleston Slough on the levee sandwiched between it and Adobe Creek, I kept going east, along two more sections, past Mountain View Slough towards Stevens Creek and the Nasa Ames Research Center.

The trail is paved and a little more manicured as you pass Shoreline Lake, Shoreline Amphitheater's canopies visible from time to time, and signs indicate that some of the grassland is burrowing owl habitat.  On the map the area bayward looks like land but it's really three more leveed salt ponds.  I couldn't really tell if they're connectd to the bay but the levees looked inviting.  As you reach the east side the smell of the water gets strong--is it windblown treated sewage or just salt pond smells?  I think it was iodine and brine.  It reminded me of the brine smells of salty Mono Lake east of the Sierra.

You wrap south along Stevens Creek.  To that point, almost 30 years into my bay area experience, Stevens Creek was just a name used in radio traffic reports.  I cycled out a short distance on the west side levee to a gate, then looped back and across a bridge to the east side levee and back toward the bay.  This route is longer, along the edge of more salt ponds and past an intersecting levee my map tells me will be a future section of the SF Bay Trail, bypassing Nasa and Moffett Field on the way to Sunnyvale.  I hit another gate, further out by the Bay and turn around as the sun drops below the Peninsula ridgeline.

Retracing my route, I make the best time yet although now I'm riding into the wind, back to Charleston Slough, back along East Bayshore, finally back to Embarcadero in near dark.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bay Area Ridge Trail: East Bay - Chabot

Sunday August 15, 2010
3.5 miles Bay Area Ridge Trail, 7 miles total

Not every hike can be transcendant, not every landscape spectacular.  Some of them are just hard and sweaty--but exercise is the point as much as anything and for that you need to climb hills.

This quest is all about getting in shape, and centers around the gym, cycling the completed segments of the SF Bay Trail, and hiking the segments of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. For variety I decided to start hiking in the East Bay near home, hoping ridges overlooking the bay would be cool despite the summer, and to start cycling on the penninsula.

My last Bay Area Ridge Trail hike, the week before, was from Kennedy Grove to Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park.  This day I had in mind both a Ridge Trail Hike and a Bay Trail ride--my first double workout.  (I was in a funk the day before and although I did a short hike with my buddy Kerry and his dogs, it didn't feel like enough.  It wasn't a Ridge Trail hike either--it's a sign of progress when you start finding reasons for more exercise instead of reasons not to.)

The next Ridge Trail segment on the map would be through Tilden to Mt. Vollmer, to Sibley and Roundtop, Huckleberry, then Redwood Regional Park, but I've done that section relatively recently, and parts of it repeatedly.  Huckleberry Botanic Regional Park, for example, is one of my favorite after-work hikes.  Redwood Regional Park is another favorite.  They're both off Skyline in Oakland.  For my goal I'll have to hike them again but today I skipped south to Anthony Chabot Regional Park.  I picked up my workout bud Stephen at Rockridge BART and he came along.

The start was at the Big Bear Staging Area on Redwood Road (click the blog entry title for a map link), east of Skyline and before you reach Redwood gate to access the bottom of Redwood Regional Park heading north.  I've been there a hundred times, but I've only been to Chabot a couple of times and never from the north end.  Redwood Gate is literally over run with people, families and big groups of picnicers.  The north end of Chabot had quite a few people but was deserted by comparison--because the only direction is up.

It's similar to Redwood at first, following a tributary of Redwood creek east to the MacDonald Staging Area along the MacDonald Trail, then it climbs.  It's a sign of how out of shape I am that it was some work, 400' in a mile and a quarter, though it's about half shaded, switch-backing up an oak-bay-redwooded canyon.  We were both sweating immediately.

Then you're on the ridge.  The payoff right?  Anthony Chabot is a big park with a lake, 5,065 acres, but narrow and long north-south, and stretching east from the Oakland Hills ridgeline across a first canyon to EBMUD watershed lands, Upper San Leandro reservoir with views to Las Trampas Regional Preserve.  The view south is complex.  I'm kind of an expert on Bay Area views, especially East Bay ones, but this one needed some thought to figure out.

The "park and its lake are named for Anthony Chabot, a pioneer California businessman and philanthropist who created Lake Chabot by building an earth-fill dam in 1874-75.  A small portion of Lake Chabot at the parkʼs southern boundary was part of Rancho San Antonio, granted to Luis Maria Peralta in 1820. The southern half of Anthony Chabot Regional Park is within the 27,722-acre Rancho San Lorenzo, granted to Don Guillermo Castro in 1843. Rancho lands were used primarily for cattle grazing. Gambling debts led to Castroʼs sale of the land in the 1860s. It was subdivided into nine ranches, and the new American owners raised beef cattle."

Maybe it was the climb, the views constrained by the woodland, or the ridgeline houses bad Oakland planning had allowed to intrude on the solitude.  It's a pet peeve of mine... houses on ridgelines, and especially ones overlooking open space the public has spent millions to preserve.  A few homeowners get a great view, at the expense of everyone else, the public trust and the reasons we protect parks, including isolation.  I spend a fair bit of time at work trying to keep those kinds of houses from being built around Mt. Diablo.  Strangely the work to stop one badly placed house can often be as time consuming as the work to stop a hundred and the triage of big and small projects conspires to make you skip over final design details.

The hike was nice but fell short of great.  I'm sure it would be more pleasant in late afternoon as the shadows lengthen, or if you started at the top.  That's one of the things about getting familiar with a takes repeated visits to figure out the place.  My goal was to exercise and complete a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail; it's not always the most beautiful route.  You can start at the end of Parkridge Drive off Skyline, skip the climb and be on the ridge immediately.

The Parkridge connector trail marks the saddle between sub-watersheds; immediately afterwards you're in a new drainage, down into "Grass Valley."  As we hiked the more gradually rolling ridge, things got more interesting and the views bigger. The botany gets more interesting too, little balds filled with gopher holes and bunchgrasses, buckwheats, etc.

"The northern portion of the park was not included in Spanish or Mexican land grants. American settlers developed ranches in the area, including the largest, the 525-acre Grass Valley Ranch.  Most of these lands were consolidated into watershed property for the City of Oakland in the early 1900s by the Peopleʼs Water Company. The water company began large-scale eucalyptus planting about 1910, greatly changing the landscape of the area. Peopleʼs Water Company became the East Bay Water Company in 1916, and creation of the East Bay Municipal Utility District followed in 1928.  The last major addition to Chabot Regional Park was Lake Chabot, EBMUDʼs reserve water supply for Oakland. Through a lease to the District, it opened to the public in 1966."

Despite that, there's no view of Lake Chabot from this trail segment, or of Upper San Leandro reservoir just to the east.  You can see down into Grass Valley.  We hiked down to the Bort Meadows Staging Area and into Grass Valley, no doubt beautiful in spring but thistle-neglected and cattle shocked now.  It would be easy to criticize park management; we all think we know others' jobs better than they do but, it has been a hard few years.  We've rapidly expanded East Bay regional parks (Yay!) at the same time that state and local budget cuts have hit goverment services hard everywhere.  Cattle are the most cost-efficient fire management tool around and besides those few obtrusive ridgeline houses there are thousands of others just over the ridge.

A half mile south into Grass Valley--Bort Meadows is a natural starting point for a next segment, though I think for that one I'll choose fading light--we turned around and retraced our steps.  The north direction is more gradual and pleasant, then a quick downhill back to the truck.  Despite it all, at seven miles this was my longest hike since early May.  My previous week's hike was a bigger climb, this one longer.

We had lunch in Rockridge and Stephen took BART home.  I took a break in Martinez, grabbed my bike and another buddy and headed to Baylands in Palo Alto.  Now that bike ride was truly amazing.  What was the synergy?  Maybe my hike was just a warm up meant to prepare me for Baylands.  Either way, Sunday August 15 included both my longest hike in four months and the most beautiful bay wetlands I have ever seen.  It was also my first double workout.

Friday, August 20, 2010

SF Bay Trail: Beautiful Baylands (Palo Alto)

Sunday 8-15-2010
SF Bay Trail: Penninsula - Baylands (Palo Alto)
8.0 miles SF Bay Trail

The Baylands in Palo Alto are the most beautiful bay wetlands I've seen since I moved here in 1981.  Bar none.

It might have been the effortless cycling, that it was the hour before sunset or that it was a few thousand acres of marsh--a completed example of the thousands of acres of restoration that are in the works.  The right combination of marsh, water, light.  A great boardwalk or the calls of endangered California clapper rails. Or the sand bars covered with birds:  pelicans, avocets, terns, gulls.  It was poetry.

It's amazing to me that in almost thirty years in the Bay Area I had never been there.  The start was at the corner of San Antonio Road and Terminal Boulevard, west of Shoreline Amphitheater and Shoreline Lake.  It was a short ride; I had already done a 7 mile Ridge Trail hike earlier in the day and my friend Sergio came along. He hadn't ridden in a long time.  But the slowest part was also the most sublime, stopping frequently to take pictures or just to soak in the beauty.

A week before I had intended to get to Baylands; they looked interesting on the map, two full trail loops with another segment to the southeast toward Shoreline amphitheater and two more segments to the north to include Ravenswood Open Space Preserve.  I wound up on the Bay Trail segment north of the Dumbarton Bridge, and crossed the bridge instead.

birds on islands and sandbars
This day I had limited time but figured I'd get in half or more of the connected trails, probably 20-25 miles roundtrip from Ravenswood to Stevens Creek, five or six distinct "islands" of wetlands or old salt ponds.  Instead this was a place to savor and return to.  I barely covered one of the areas, the main Baylands marshes between Charleston Slough and the Palo Alto airport.

Much of the route is unpaved fire road; the first part follows Charleston Slough northeast, past beautiful mashland and lots of those bird-covered sand bars.  You cross a couple of small bridges, across Mayfield Slough and around to parallel Embarcadero toward Sand Point, where there's a pier for water access.  More flocks of birds.  Avocets are a really beautiful bird and to see one or even ten in a mudflat area isn't all that unusual.  Fifty or a hundred was a first for me.  Sand Point is a perfect put-in spot for wind surfing or kayaking.

restored wetlands
It was getting late and I was thinking about adding in the next loop north but got stopped in my tracks by the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center at 2775 Embarcadero Road.  It's funky cool and dated, from the air two connected wooden, splayed hexagonals on pilings above pickleweed marsh, topped with solar panels.  Narrow decks surround it.

But circle around those decks and you find the start of a board walk stretching arrow straight above and across the pickleweed marsh a quarter mile to the edge of open water.  We left the bikes at the Interpretive Center and walked to the end.  The tide seemed to be coming in and one of the coolest things was listening to, barely seeing, the water rush through, flood through, the pickleweed.  It was the antithesis of the imprisoned salt ponds, living marsh flushed and fed twice daily by the tides.

sunset wetlands, East Bay view
Halfway out, the boardwalk crosses a small slough, which an interpretive sign names "rail alley."  And it is.  Without seeing them, we heard multiple overlapping clattering calls.  I've never seen a California clapper rail but I knew without a doubt they were what we were hearing.  They're one of the endangered reasons forcing a lot of the salt pond and marshland restoration I've been seeing and thinking about these past few weeks.

They're hen-sized with a long straight beak and a tail cocked at a jaunty angle, and they live primarily in cordgrass and pickleweed salt marsh around San Francisco Bay and, more particularly, along the narow sloughs and channels that carry the water in and out.

Sand Point
According to a National Audubon Society website: "Once common, the California Clapper Rail has not recovered its numbers since market hunting in the late 19th Century. In the mid-1970's, about 5,000 California Clapper Rails resided around San Francisco Bay. By the mid-1980's that number had dwindled to about 1,000 and continued to fall to less than 400 individuals in 1992. In 2007, the total population is believed to be fewer than 1,000."

You don't expect an endangered species to be loud and boisterous, literally shouting to predators, "we're here."  You can listen to a California Clapper Rail at: and you can see and hear one at: .

yours truly
One of my best friends, photographer Bob Walker (who died in 1992), photographed them in the 1980s for a film called Secrets of the Bay, which was made in association with Save the Bay.  He made jokes about it afterwards, the hunt for this secretive, extremely rare bird.  He and the other filmmakers planned, finding out when the highest tides of the year are and waiting for them; they flush the birds out of hiding.  He carefully timed the trip and went to a place they're known from--maybe it was Baylands, but I think it was in the East Bay--and waited, camera tripod anchored in the mud at the edge of one of these small sloughs.

my buddy Sergio
Almost immediately a clapper rail appeared.  It walked one way and another while he took photos, then literally walked between his feet and underneath the tripod.  According to Bob, "they're not endangered because of habitat loss, they're endangered because they're stupid."  You have to feel for them, up against non-native red foxes, hawks and owls.

Sort of ruins the metaphors about plainitive calls by a sad bird endangered by man's greed, on the brink of extinction in the sunset's fading light.  All I can say is that I hope the thousands of acres of restoration will provide enough habitat that it's their endangered status that fades and their populations grow large and robust.

Isn't that a great positive symbol of what we can do?  Yes, we can ruin things before we know what we're doing.  Yes we collectively suffer from greed and thoughtlessness.  Yet we can also buy and restore thousands of acres to feed our souls, turn back the clock, and help out a loud, distinctive and not very smart bird.

the board walk at the interpretive center
We followed Embarcadero back to Faber Pl. and circled south near the freeway, the paved bike path parallelling East Bayshore road, and zig-zagged back to Terminal Boulevard and the truck.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Week 6: Fitness this Week & Giving Back

Aug. 17, 2010: End of Week 6
hiking with Kerry and Wee-Wee
It was a week of drama and sadness over an ended relationship.  Ironically all of the exercise I've been doing was part of the reason.  The counterpoint of regularly feeling joy became a refusal to participate in the drama. I'd rather be single than miserable. Exercise and diet were all over the place--I even thought I might have gained weight--but I pulled it out at the end and have dropped another two pounds, down from 245 six weeks ago to 227.  Hopefully this coming week will mark twenty pounds lost.

Sunday started with a good bike ride, 17 miles including across the Dumbarton Bridge, the day after my hardest hike since May. I only hit the gym twice, arms and back/traps, and my second week of my second month at 15/lbs per arm and 30 for both arms (because of the biceps surgery recovery).  My gym cardio held steady and (this sounds pitiful even to me) I increased my running from the previous week's half mile to 1.25 miles--baby steps. My face continues to look skinnier.  My pecs feel deflated however; I miss my pump but have since started to get it back by really tensing the muscles despite the light weights. Saturday I did a short hike on "Snake Road" here in Martinez, (Carquinez Scenic Drive) on the bluffs overlooking Carquinez Strait.

My Goals
• Write about the outdoors.
• Get in shape; current goal, drop from 245 to 200 lbs.
• Experience joy more frequently.
• Cycle and Hike, and Popularize the San Francisco Bay Trail & the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
• Leave things a little better than I found them.
• Donate 5% of my income to worthy causes.

Aug 17, 2010 - Six weeks
227 lbs (current weight on August 17, 2010); 245 lbs (weight July 5, 2010)
Bay Trail cycling miles: 28.7 (one-way, no repeats)
All other cycling miles: 44.85
Ridge Trail hiking miles: 6.6 (one-way, no repeats)
All hiking & other cardio miles: 45.9
Gym visits: 14

Finding Joy
There were moments here and there, mostly there was relief; how could I have put up with things this long? There's a movie quote I like, in Beautiful Girls Matt Dillion asks Uma Thurman about her boyfriend, "He makes you happy?" "Yeah he makes me happy.  The ones who make me miserable never seem to last." That's me:  the ones who make me miserable never seem to last.  Talking with my sister, work, hiking with a friend and his three dogs (dogs live in the moment), becoming a sweatly mess in the gym - those were my moments this past week.

Giving Back
I'm picking up a little trash on each bike ride and hike--my price of admission to the parks I visit. I'm also donating about 5% of my income to charity.  It was a self-centered week; I mapped out a couple of donations this week but haven't made them yet.

Donations this year
Save The Bay
Sonoma County Food Bank
Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden
To a friend
Save Mount Diablo
Bay Nature magazine

Sunday, August 15, 2010

SF Bay Trail: Bayfront Park (Menlo Park) & Dumbarton Bridge

Sunday 8-10, 2010
SF Bay Trail: Penninsula - Bayfront Park & Dumbarton Bridge
9.7 miles SF Bay Trail, plus 7.4 other miles

Sunday was a beautiful, tumultuous day, too many unplanned things competing for my attention, and a fundraiser to get to as well.  I ran out of the house, grabbed the bike, and hit the road--accidentally leaving all of my Bay Trail maps and my camera behind.  (I "borrowed" these pictures off the web until I can take some of my own.)  I headed south of my last ride, and my first one, looking for a good place to start.  I thought I would hit the Baylands in Palo Alto and took a likely exit from Highway 101, ending up back at Bayfront Park in Menlo Park.

Five or six weeks earlier I'd been there, when I first started thinking about how to get in shape.  I was going to hike both the Bay Trail and the Ridge Trail and was scouting Foster City.  I thought it a little boring for a walk, and wound up at Bayfront Park where I hiked the 2 mile+ perimeter and over the top.  Even that short a distance on pavement in hiking boots convinced me to crosstrain by cycling the SF Bay Trail segments while hiking the Ridge Trail ones.  Almost the entire trail is paved and I'd be doing each one twice, out and back.

In my truck I scouted the route from Bayfront Park south to the Dumbarton Bridge, to make sure it was long enough, and realized that the Baylands I had been trying to find are actually south of the bridge.  I've really been filling in gaps in my knowledge of the Penninsula with these rides.  When I got home and looked at the maps, I saw how it all fits together, and made the area south of the bridge my goal for this coming Sunday.  The Dumbarton Bridge is accessible, though, with a bike/pedestrian path, so it seemed like a cool idea to ride over to the East Bay and back.

Changing the World...
The root of most environmental problems is over-population. Ironically, the solution to a lot of these issues is density: enough people nearby that a critical mass develops, enough people fall in love with a place that they become its champions, or are concerned enough by a problem that they become its solution. Most of the time it happens the same way; a few people get together, become leaders, and start a movement. My organization was formed in a similar fashion nearly 40 years ago. One visionary, recognized by a nuts and bolts guy, who then gathered others. Today we have more than 7000 members.

The park, at the foot of Marsh Road, is a convenient place to park and there are bathrooms.  Like many of the hilly parks along the bay, "Bedwell" Bayfront Park in Menlo Park is an old garbage dump capped in the mid-1980s and turned into a park.  It's not as well designed as the parks in San Mateo, or even as manicured as the shoreline strips in Foster City or Redwood City.  Just grassland slopes and some mostly non-native trees.  What it really strikes me as is a blank canvas, a quarter section (that's 160 acres, or one quarter of a square mile "section") waiting for something.  It's "new" land so there really are no historical precedents, it comes down to what the public wants.  I imagine native plant introduction and slopes of bunchgrass, seed wands blowing in the breezes.

So I google the park name, and there they are: They have a brochure, too: .  The first big decision has already been made:  the old dump becomes a park rather than some other form of development.  That's not unusual with old landfills, they often leak methane and are still 'settling.'  But what kind of park?  "Various development proposals have threatened the park’s open space and wildlife, including development of a golf course and playing fields. These proposals have since been withdrawn or defeated by voters, and the park today remains as public open space."  Evidently there are burrowing owls and lots of other birds. 

There's also an interesting art/cultural installation.  "THE GREAT SPIRIT PATH - This unique art installation in the park is a stone poem in four stanzas inspired by Native American pictographs and designed by Menlo Park artist Susan Dunlap. Installed along a 3/4-mile long trail in the park, the Great Spirit Path is composed of 53 rock sculptures grouped into clusters, each representing a phrase in the poem. The largest sculpture of its kind anywhere, it is made of 892 rough natural stones weighing more than 505 tons."

The "Friends" will work for awhile, gather strength and expertise, defend the park, raise money.  I'd be willing to bet that eventually they'll start introducing native plants, if they haven't already.
Bayfront Park to Dumbarton Bridge
It's 2.3 miles on the paved path around the park, part of the SF Bay Trail, past an old sewage plant, with salt ponds east and west, and marshland to the north (the shoreline has curved at this point so what seems north is actually west.) The park is surrounded on three sides by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1974 and now includes around 30,000 acres, or 47 square miles.
A lot of that acreage is made up of salt ponds, another nearly blank canvas, and they really dominate the south (and north) parts of the Bay Trail.  You may have seen them from the air, like large rice paddies, surrounded by sinuous levees and multi-colored with algae and brine, from blue to green to red.  They've transformed a natural landscape of tens of thousands of acres of marshland interspersed with open water ponds, to tends of thousands of acres of salt pond fringed with marsh.  They have some wildlife value but mostly they represent hope.  Nearly 90% of the bay's original 187,000 acres of marshes have been lost, and a third of its area, but it's doesn't have to be permanent.  16,500 acres of salt ponds were purchased 5 or 6 years ago--for $100 million--with plans for restoration.  It will take decades.

The ponds were located where salt was naturally produced in shallow areas.  Salt collection by Indians and early settlers for spice and to preserve food evolved into a hundred years of industrial salt production for all kinds of chemical uses.  Salty water was moved from pond to pond as it evaporated, concentrated and collected, leaving behind a toxic briny concentrate called bittern. 

Imagine reassembling Yosemite, or the Everglades. It's not an easy task.  You can't just break the levees and let the bay water in; the brine concentrate would poison the bay.  In some shallow ponds, letting in more water just continues the process of evaporation, and makes the ponds even more salty.  Restoration has begun a piece at a time, slowly, starting with pilot projects which are monitored and from which lessons are learned to apply to the next project.  Some are allowed to return to marshland or mudflats, some to remain as open water.  There's not just one kind of marsh either, there are many, influenced by tides, by freshwater creeks and springs, by sewage outflows, by differences in elevation of just a few feet, or even inches.  Salty, brackish, fresh.  The ponds and marshes have conflicting functions too, from managing flood waters and extreme tides, to providing recreation and wildlife habitat, all at a time when sea level is rising.

There are historical influences; during the gold rush huge quantities of sediments decreased the bay's depth by a half to two-thirds and layered in from then on were heavy metals like mercury and other pollutants. On the other hand, some of the ponds have subsided as much as ten feet.  There is a balance to be achieved between enough tidal flow to keep sloughs open and enough sediment to raise the bottoms of the ponds to elevations at which marsh plants can grow.  Blank canvases don't just get filled with art, either.  Ponds recconnected to tidal flow are vacuums which can be filled with aggressive, invasive non-native plants and animals too. They have to be controlled.

You can read more about the salt ponds and the restoration at:

It should be no surprise that preservation of 30,000 acres of the National Wildlife Refuge and addition of another 16,500 acres was the brain child of just a few people, just like the Friends of Bayfront Park.  In the late-1960s Florence and Philip LaRiviere formed Citizens’Committee to Complete the Refuge.  Sure there were many others involved, and organizations like Save the Bay, but there are always a few catalysts who lead the way.

Reminds me...I nominated the two co-founders of my organization for a national conservation award a few years ago and they won, and went back to Washington D.C. to get the award, where there was a presentation about them.  The Awards organizers called for photos, quotes and other information. 

One founder was the visionary and we had lots of great quotes from her.  The other, the nuts and bolts guy, was arguably more important.  He's a taciturn mid-westerner; even though he had accomplished many great things, he'd never said anything all that memorable.  So I was trying to prompt him into giving me some pithy summaries of all that had happened.  The best I could get was "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," and one that has really stuck with me:  "if you do anything for 30 years, you'll make a difference."  So it is with him, so it is with the LaRivieres, so it will be with the Friends of Bayfront Park, if they last that long.

All this a long winded way of describing a bike ride with potential.  I left Bayfront Park headed east paralleling Bayfront Expressway.  There's a long strip of grassland (what they call "upland habitat") mowed and studded with ground squirrels, along a slough--one of those marshland fringes seperating the trail and slough from salt ponds waiting to be liberated.  It's been a rare Bay Trail ride that didn't include feral cats among the wildlife and I saw one with a mouse in its mouth--hopefully not an endangered Salt Marsh harverst mouse.

The trail wraps around Sun Microsystems, then parallels Highway 84, jogs across the about-to-be freeway at University Avenue to the south side, sandwiched between more salt ponds, then climbs onto the Dumbarton bridge.  It's low rise, and at 1.6 miles only a little longer than the much higher Martinez-Benicia bridge near home.  Its 1927 draw bridge predecessor was the first vehicular bridge across the bay, and the shortest; parts of it remain at either end as fishing piers.  An old railroad bridge is just south; together they bound the smallest part of the bay, circled with salt ponds. 

I dropped to more salt ponds and, just past the KOIT radio towers and building, turned around and headed back.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Week 5: Fitness this Week & Giving Back

Aug. 7, 2010: End of Week 5
This week I did well on exercise and not as well on diet but I continued dropping in weight down 2 or 3 lbs and 16 total to 229.  Hit the gym three times, cardio, abs and stretching each time along with chest-tris, legs, and shoulders.  For my biceps surgery recovery this was the first week of 4 with single arm lifts at 15 lbs and double-arm at 25-30.  I had several early mornings and one late night and I think getting enough sleep is a problem. But, besides gym cardio, I started the week with a Bay Trail ride, and ended it with a Ridge Trail hike; I also got in a little hike on my new property.

I've been wondering when I would be able to see a difference; this morning I did.  My face seemed skinnier.  That's normal. Now the remaining fat will redistribute and the belly should shrink some.  This will sound silly, but I also tried the scale at the gym for the first time in a year or two.  Tuesday I was at 231 on my home scale, and I was starting to wonder if it was a magic scale, always trending downward.  I figured if I tried the gym scale I'd break the spell but Thursday I did, and it was down below 229.  Corroboration!

The early morning meetings meant I was more rushed, and more tired, so I didn't eat as well at breakfast but I still stuck to coffee, a canned protein shake and a piece of fruit, and took quinoa/vegetables and fruit to work for lunch.  But Wednesday we had an organizational potluck picnic, Thursday I went home early and ate everything in the house but the kitchen sink, and a couple of hours ago after my hike was my real splurge and the only meat this week, a couple of cheeseburgers, and fries, at In-n-Out Burger.  I've been having some strange cravings. 

I did get back on the Ridge Trail today, though, for the first time in weeks, and I over reached.  Some serious steepness and 1200' gain, at six mile my longest hike since the beginning of May.  Not sure if it was the week's exercise or the hike but I was tired throughout, I'm wiped, and my feet are sore.

My Goals
• Write about the outdoors.
• Get in shape; current goal, drop from 245 to 200 lbs.
• Experience joy more frequently.
• Cycle and Hike, and Popularize the San Francisco Bay Trail & the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
• Leave things a little better than I found them.
• Donate 5% of my income to worthy causes.

Aug 7, 2010
229 lbs (current weight on August 7, 2010); 245 lbs (weight July 5, 2010)
Bay Trail cycling miles: 19
All other cycling miles: 32.7
Ridge Trail hiking miles: 6.6
All hiking & other cardio miles: 35.2
Gym visits: 12

Finding Joy
Joy was almost daily this week; a good part of it is clearly related to exercise in cool fog weather and being by the water; it was nice being up at the Russian River last weekend too--great stars in the night sky.  I was smiling while cycling in San Mateo Sunday, my gym workouts were good, I got the go-ahead for two significant projects at work on Wednesday morning and was on one of our properties for a Board potluck Wednesday night.  We're restoring it and it's always a thrill to see how fast the native plants we've reintroduced are growing.  There were bats flying overhead in the night sky too.  I tested out my lighter weight running on the treadmill one day--I'm still not in running shape but I'm feeling encouraged.  Prop. 8 was over turned the other day and Elena Kagen was confirmed to the Supreme Court.  Hiked my new property Friday and up to the big oaks on the knoll top--serious beauty--and lay on my belly looking at stickleback fish in the stream pools at another property.  Today's hike was tiring but the descent was almost ecstatic, gravity doing the work, the fog topping the ridge in waves of white, and the wind was gale force but cool.  The colors of the water in San Pablo reservoir, the dense green woodland and the golden meadows, the white fog against the bright blue sky--it was almost crystalline beauty, when everything clicks and it's so beautiful your heart stops.  Even the two cheese burgers I ate this afternoon.  I'm making so much progress so fast, I can see my goal and it seems much closer than I imagined.  I'm sure there will be setbacks.

Giving Back
I'm picking up a little trash on each bike ride and hike--my price of admission to the parks I visit.  I'm also donating about 5% of my income to charity.  I was wondering which cause to help this week, when a direct mail inquiry came in from Save the Bay. It was a no brainer given how much I've been enjoying the bay every week.  Work might not count but I assigned staff and volunteers to finish up cleanup of a pot farm we found on one property and made a note to check another 4 or 5 nearby canyons annually, we're continuing to water plants we've installed on two properties, continued planning native grassland restoration on several properties, construction of an outdoor shelter, scheduled a work party to remove thistles from the new property and began thinking about collecting acorns there to get some some young trees going near the big ones--after nearly 200 years of over grazing there are only big old trees on the property, when they die there won't be any unless we lend a hand.

Donations this year
Save The Bay
Sonoma County Food Bank
Friends of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden at Tilden
To a friend
Save Mount Diablo
Bay Nature magazine