Tuesday, July 20, 2010

San Francisco Bay Trail: Ryder Park, San Mateo, to Foster City to Oracle

(Sat. July 10, 2010 - I'm doing a little catch up now that I've started this blog)

How many times have I crossed the San Mateo Bridge?  I even had an urban planners' idea about Foster City, a Venice Beach of the north constructed from 1958-1964 out of Brewer's Island and wetlands, four square miles leveed and filled with 14 million cubic yards of sand dredged from the bay and turned into houses along canal-like lagoons.  But I'd never really seen either place. 
I decided to add the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail to my exercise goals for the next 12-18 months.  As I mentioned in my first blog post, while checking out Foster City on July 5th, I realized that hiking the Bay Trail would mean a lot of hot spots on my feet from hiking on pavement and then I'd have to turn around and return the same way.  Cycling was a better idea and would allow me to crosstrain with hikes on the Ridge Trail.  I did a short hike on Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, and returned on July 10th with my mountain bike.
Creation of the San Francico Bay Trail began in 1987 and eventually implementation passed to a nonprofit organization, the "Bay Trail Project." According to its website:  "When complete, the Bay Trail will be a continuous 400-mile recreational corridor that will encircle the entire Bay Area, connecting communities to each other and to the Bay. It will link the shorelines of all nine counties in the Bay Area and 47 of its cities." It will also connect more than 130 parks and open spaces, with plans for routes across most of the bridges too. 
This is remarkable because in 1965 there were just 4 miles of publicly accessible shoreline along San Francisco Bay, which was rapidly being filled (see image at right, and the 1965 projection for 2020), developed, and was the site of many of the region's dumps and a smelly repository for untreated sewage. Save San Francisco Bay Association (Save The Bay) was started in 1961, and using these images and the slogan "Bay or River" in 1965 it won a legislative moratorium against placing fill in the Bay, the McAteer-Petris Act. It established the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to plan protection of the Bay, regulate shoreline development, and ensure public access.
I'm using two guides to the Bay Trail, the Coastal Conservancy's San Francisco Bay Shoreline Guide; in mid-1994 as the Guide was being published, 170 miles (43%) of the Trail had been completed.  Also Michael Cramer's 2005 Cycling Guide, San Francisco Bay Trail, which notes that of 450 miles, "about 240 miles are now complete, and another 110 miles can be biked on alternate routes." The Bay Trail Project has upped their plans to 500 miles including a variety of spur trails, bridge crossings, etc.

As I got off the San Mateo Bridge I immediately exited north on Foster City Boulevard, to 3rd Avenue and drove north until I found a place to park northwest of Ryder Park in San Mateo.  I was starting late so I didn't want my truck to get locked in the park if I made it back after dark.

Ryder Park was a great place to start.  A nice park design that viewed from the air (or Google Earth) is a series of circles, landscaped with native bunchgrasses.  The Bay Trail immediately crosses a small slough on a nice arched bridge to Seal Point Park, the old capped San Mateo dump.  On the Bay Trail there are a lot of former dumps turned into parks jutting into the bay.  You can see the fascination with cheap "new" land in the middle of an urban area; the bay averages 6-18 feet deep so by the time Save the Bay and BCDC got organized, a third of the bay had been lost to diked salt ponds and fill.  That trend has reversed in recent years as salt ponds are acquired, reconnected to the tides, and restored.

You can cycle along Seal Point Park's south side or preferably circle northeast along the shoreline side, breezy with wind sculptures and kids flying kites.  It's a relatively clean slate, made for native plant introduction even though it's "new" land created from marsh or open water.  Someone needs to adopt it but I'm optimistic; one of the good things about population growth is that more people in the future will afford more things including the time to fall in love with new parks and then spend some of it improving them. 
The trail crosses the mouth of Marina Lagoon on another bridge, then skirts nice wetlands before wrapping shoreward around a strange captive little golf course, confined with big nets, and past a wind surfing area.  More wetlands then a long stretch toward the San Mateo Bridge at Little Coyote Point, passing new commercial buildings and wetland restoration areas. 

It was at this point that I re-evaluated my hour out, hour back plans--my repaired biceps tendon and arm were doing a fair bit of shock absorbtion--but I was also starting to feel real joy.  Fog streaming over the Penninsula ridges to the west, cool temperatures, setting sun, and the waves on the bay.  Moving water is a sure fire mood enhancer, I was feeling alive, and it was my first sign that my plans for getting in shape made sense.  I simply need to get moving, more often.

You cross under the bridge past the parallel San Mateo County Fishing Pier, reportedly the bay's longest pier at 4,135" and you're in Foster City proper, following a long stretch of Beach Park Boulevard.  It's a nice stretch but the houses feel 1960s-1970s dated and the ice plant landscaping a little mundane after the restoration areas I'd passed earlier.  Sea level rise will threaten Foster City but, again, I'm optimistic.  Levee improvements will probably be accompanied by more wetlands restoration.  Marshes are good buffers for dampening extreme tide and storm events that will threaten the leees.  Managing the lagoons and bridges will be harder--tide gates maybe.

Driving through Foster City, looking at all the bridges, I couldn't help wonder about repair and replacement costs as sea level rises.  In 2050 will Foster City residents tax themselves to replace bridges with inflated billion dollar price tags?  In November 1936, after spending $77 million to build the Oakland Bay Bridge (including the Transbay Transit Terminal) could Bay Area residents have believed that replacing a section of the Bay Bridge in 2010 would cost $6.3 billion? 

It was getting late but I was determined to make at least a 90 minute ride so I pressed on west along the north side of Belmont Slough, headed almost to Hwy 101. 

The slough is lined with nice cordgrass marsh and another bridge crosses over to Oracle in the Redwood Shores area.  It was getting dark by the time I got there on a Saturday evening and the business towers were deserted.  The most incongruous sight was dozens of jack rabbits, which had crossed the trail from the marsh and upland areas along Belmont Slough to graze on the manicured lawns of Oracle, but darted back to the slough edge as I passed.  At 45 minutes I turned around and started back.

Halfway back around Foster City it was dark but there was plenty of light to see by.  I was getting tired but there was a new kind of wildlife to avoid, dozens of cats living among the shoreline rip-rap.  There was even an old lady feeding a group of them. 

When I crossed back around the point under the San Mateo Bridge, I realized another mistake.  Heading south first, in the evening, meant dealing with the wind on the way back.  My longest bike ride in over a year.  By the time I made it back to Ryder Park and the truck, I was beat.  At right is a view of Seal Point Park, the old landfill, as it gets dark.

An 8.5-mile segment of the Bay Trail, 17 miles roundtrip in 90 minutes, a little fresh air and joy.  I've ridden hundreds of miles in a day but not in years.  This was a start.

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