After one of the coldest nights of the year, when snow was predicted to fall as low as sea level, there was some uncertainty about whether or not the monthly interpretative talk at would be canceled. Scouring multiple websites, I could find nothing that said the talk would be canceled due to snow. Rain, yes. But snow? No mention.
So, it was time to lace up my hiking books, put on my water-resistant windbreaker and head out. It was a lovely Saturday morning--no snow on the ground in Menlo Park--just cool, brisk air with plenty of sunshine, blue sky and clusters of puffy, white clouds.
Me and the other morning walkers who braved the cold gathered at the parking lot closest to the restrooms, where we met Jennifer Heroux, the Park Ranger and Interpretive Specialist from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wearing her service brown uniform, cap and sunglasses. She was fully prepared with a daypack, aluminum water bottle, brochures and business cards. A docent from Friends of Bayfront Park joined us as well.
Our first stop on the two-hour walk around the park's perimeter was the slough that connects with the Bay via an underroad culvert. While we were there we spotted several species of shore birds picking their way through the mud, searching for invertebrates. We also learned how the tides influence the feeding patterns of both the migrating birds, and those that live here year-round.
Heroux led us further down the trail to view the former Cargill salt ponds. In 2003, Cargill Salt sold and donated 15,100 acres of its evaporative salt ponds around the Bay to the federal government and the state of California. The sale was made up of three distinct areas--the Ravenswood ponds on the West shore adjacent to Bedwell Bayfront Park, the Alviso ponds in the south bay, and Eden Landing Ponds along the east bay shoreline. These three areas make up the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation's only urban wildlife refuges.
As we continued walking around the perimeter of Bedwell Bayfront Park, Heroux described how the evaporative salt ponds once worked and the long-term plans to restore the ponds to a tidal marsh. Converting these former salt ponds to tidal marshes is a multi-decade plan that will involve many state and federal government agencies. To remove the salt ponds too quickly would upset the balance between the ponds and the many species of birds that currently use it for feeding, nesting and resting.
In addition to restoring the wetlands, the restoration project balances two other goals as well--providing public access to the wetlands, and flood control. Without flood control, areas of the south bay, including Alviso, would be subject to flooding.
On our way back to the parking lot, we stopped near the methane capture plant. This plant collects methane gas created by the decomposing refuse in the landfill that was covered over to create the park, and turns it into electricity--approximately $100,000 worth each year.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Friends of Bayfront Park will be offering this park walk again in March. In addition, the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge offers additional activities at other locations in the south and east bay areas. Check the website for details.