Long ago, when I was very young, my parents would take us to the old Berkeley Pier to walk or fish in San Francisco Bay. The shoreline along what was known then to fishermen as "The Berkeley Flats" was not very appealing, especially at low tide - mud flats were filled with discarded tires, metal scraps, or cars. Much of the Bay frontage was composed of landfills, such as the old Berkeley Dump. Trash peppered the Bay between Emeryville and Richmond. It wasn't pretty, but it was one of the places close to home where we could enjoy the Bay as our parents lamented the damage done to its shores.
Fast forward to 2010. As I sought shelter from the blistering heat of the outer East Bay, I took flight toward the shoreline of my youth on San Francisco Bay. Once I arrived, however, I couldn't find it. In its place were beautiful parks, open public shoreline and a wonderful walk along the San Francisco Bay Trail. As the memories of the old mud flats came flooding back, the reality of this shoreline-in-progress poked at me to notice the incredible restoration and public access work that's been accomplished over the course of years. The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) was one of the biggest players in the creation of these parklands, which meant fine things for man and his or her best friends.
There are two entities that make up much of the East Bay shoreline in the present day. The first is McLaughlin Eastshore State Park, an 8.5-mile-long narrow strip of shoreline between the Bay Bridge and Richmond. McLaughlin Eastshore came about using state park funding and the District's Measure AA bond funds to acquire the land. EBRPD operates the park using funds from the District's Measure CC bond funds. That's the short version of the story of the creation of this park. The second piece is the San Francisco Bay Trail, a marvelous piece of multi-agency cooperation that will one day enable an intrepid hiker to walk completely around the Bay using only human-powered means.
The marriage of these two entities provides us a beautiful, educational, restorative and enlightening experience. Although there are several locations from which to stage a hike, I chose the small parking area at the west end of Buchanan Street, just off I-580 in Albany. My day pack was readied, and I noted the air held a distinct marine aroma€¦typical of the Bay at low tide. From the look of the trail map, this day could include copious numbers of miles with wildlife along the way. Being flat and paved made this section of the Bay Trail a big time winner for those with mobility issues. It's a natural for wheelchairs - I found this stretch delightful, with places to stop and watch birds and animals. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The trail is easy to follow north from Buchanan. At first it hugs a marsh where, delightfully enough, wildflowers still bloomed - in August. This was a welcome trend that continued until I made my turn-around at Marina Bay. Birds - divers, waders, shorebirds and ducks, residents from avocets to willets had returned to the restored marshes dotting the sides of the trail. I wouldn't have had trouble stopping at one place and spending several hours watching them. Naming them off - avocets, egrets, herons (great blue and black crowned night), stilts, willets, rails, godwits the variety is wonderful, the numbers impressive. In my youth fewer of these birds called the flats "home" - it just wasn't all that hospitable. The "wild" feel is back, however, and the Bay Trail at McLaughlin Eastshore State Park gives us a front row seat.
It's an easy cruise. I got into a rhythm, a good pace with which I could cover a lot of trail in a short time. The day was sunny with a slight wind; a late afternoon might give a walker a chance to revel in the inbound fog as it wraps around Albany Hill and makes its way toward Emeryville. As for me, I turned toward the bay at Central Ave., following the trail along the squirrel-laden rocks. Ground squirrels were ubiquitous; they'd be chirping something unprintable at me if I got too close. But cute, furry animals are part of the scenery here, and it was fun to watch them chase each other across the marsh's edge.
As for cute furry things, the next attraction of note is second home to all 12 legs of my happy menagerie - Tasha, Indie Jones and Brody. Of course, it's Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, home of one of the models for successful dog parks. Our three beasts know one thing - they can romp at will, play until they drop, and afterwards be treated to a bath and dog ice cream treat at Mudpuppy's Tub & Scrub. Funny scenes are part of the attraction for we humans. I watched an Australian Shepherd jump at full dog gallop into the Bay, then share the experience via a good shake with her master. Your hound will appreciate some time with many other new playmates. There are hundreds of smiling hounds at Point Isabel every day. Mine give it six "paws up". Especially the bath!
The Bay Trail north of Point Isabel is where I found the really fascinating parts. The restoration of the marshes on this section is nothing short of incredible, even as the work is still in progress. I watched a great blue heron in one of the small feeder creeks picking off fish after tiny fish, something that might have been impossible 30 years ago. The vegetation, wildflowers included, is thriving. Temporary signs detailing the work being done and the team or group doing it are there to explain what's being accomplished. I was struck with the beauty and native feel of these restored places, as I recalled what once was a garbage-filled, desolate shoreline, all but given up for lost.
I decided to turn back as I reached a housing development near Marina Bay in Richmond. The Bay Trail continued north around and past Marina Bay, but I stopped to a look across the bay waters at one of our least known parks, Brooks Island Regional Preserve. Visits to Brooks Island are by scheduled naturalist-led tour only, but those tours are one of a kind, thrills that everyone should someday schedule. You can find scheduled tour dates by calling the District at 1-888-327-2757, option 2. Brooks Island is a marvelous bird sanctuary, especially as it is almost completely undisturbed by humans. I noted it as a great paddle-around-the-island trip in a kayak€¦for future reference, of course. Watch this space!
I turned back as the District's section of trail gave way to the City of Richmond's, north of Point Isabel. I was almost reluctant to leave. I imagined being out here in rain gear as it poured; at high tide, in the fog, on a clear, sunny day€¦.I couldn't think of a time I'd turn down a visit. Check the trail and park maps at www.ebparks.org to plan your route, then cozy up to the once-dying bay shore to bask in the work of some wonderful people and community groups. This trail makes for an easy walk, ride, roll or run. I give it a flying "two wheels UP!" and will make it a point to be back again soon. I hope to see you out there!