New wetland project, public trail to open on former Army site near Golden Gate Bridge
By PAUL ROGERS | Palo Alto Daily News, Calif. | Published: December 11, 2020
PALO ALTO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — For decades, the area was covered with asphalt, railroad tracks and warehouses as part of an Army base. But now a new project is transforming the landscape back to wetlands, creeks and trails for birds, fish, crabs and other wildlife — and for outdoor lovers.
Marking the most recent step forward in the decades-long effort to turn back the clock along San Francisco's waterfront to a more natural state not seen since the 1800s, planners on Friday are unveiling a new $23 million wetlands restoration project at the Presidio. The project has converted seven acres next to Crissy Field in an area adjacent to Presidio Parkway called Quartermaster Reach.
"For so many years this was an industrial area, a part of the Army," said Genevieve Bantle, project supervisor for the Presidio Trust, the agency overseeing the work. "The highway caused a complete separation of the waterfront from the Presidio. This project and others makes the Presidio whole again. We're knitting things back together that have been separated for a long time."
The Presidio opened in 1776 as a Spanish Army post overlooking San Francisco Bay. It transferred to Mexican control in 1822, then U.S. ownership in 1847.
The largest open space in San Francisco, the 1,491-acre site became part of America's national park system in 1994 after the Army base closed and Congress transferred the land to the National Park Service. The Presidio Trust, an agency Congress created, runs most of the Presidio, and is responsible for restoring its historic buildings and keeping the site financially self-sufficient through rents and other revenues.
For the past 26 years, the landscape has been evolving. One project at a time, historic military buildings dating back to the Civil War are being refurbished by the National Park Service, Presidio Trust and non-profit groups into offices, homes, lodges and other uses. In other places, damaged landscapes are being replanted and restored.
"The pandemic has shown us how critical access to nature is, with the myriad of health benefits it provides for human beings — especially in an urban environment," said Laura Joss, superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes the Presidio.
In the current project, which began construction a year ago, workers took a creek that the Army had put into culverts and buried underground generations ago and brought it back to the surface so it now flows to the ocean naturally for the first time in more than 100 years. They built a new hiking trail that connects Crissy Field, through the new wetland area, past the Presidio visitors center to Inspiration Point, about 1.5 miles away, on the south end of the park near the Presidio Golf Course. The trail is expected to open by Dec. 18.
The restored wetlands area looks muddy and barren now. But crews are finishing planting 23,000 native plants, which should turn the area green in the coming year as they sprout and provide habitat for shorebirds, fish and crabs. Workers also put in structures with oyster shells to attract native oysters back from the bay.
The adjacent 14-acre Crissy Marsh was restored in 2001, although not as large as biologists had hoped due to the discovery of an archeological site, and concerns from neighbors who wanted big areas of Crissy Field open for recreation. The new wetlands area is expected to help make up for the lost opportunity.
Just in the last few weeks, herons, egrets, killdeer and other birds have flocked to the site. Small fish are turning up in the reborn stream.
"When we bring water back to the surface, nature takes over. The birds show up. The invertebrates come in. Plant life flourishes," Bantle said.
The area, which housed pavilions during the 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo world's fair, is being called Quartermaster Reach, after the Army's Quartermaster Corps, which stored food and other Army provisions in warehouses there for decades.
Funding for the wetlands project came from Caltrans, which upgraded the Presidio Parkway road system, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Weeden Foundation and donors to the non-profit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
"This is an incredible gift to this region, and builds on the work that began in 2001 with the restoration of Crissy Field and Crissy Marsh," said Christine Lehnertz, president and CEO of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
An even larger project nearby continues. That work, called Tunnel Tops, will be a new 14-acre park on top of two Presidio Parkway tunnels. When finished by the end of 2021, it will feature trails, gardens, a campfire circle, community plaza and trees. It will link Crissy Field to the Presidio's Main Post, parade grounds and visitors center. That connection was severed more than 80 years ago when the road to and from the Golden Gate Bridge, formerly known as Doyle Drive, was built, splitting the landscape in half.
(c)2020 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.)
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