September 3rd, 2006

Today's Field Trip: Bayfront Park

Today's Field Trip: Bayfront Park

Today D. and I went to Bayfront Park in Menlo Park. Bayfront Park is another landfill that has been capped off, landscaped and turned into a public park. This one stands out due to the stone sculptures installed there in the 1980s as public art.

Bayfront Park is Menlo Park's largest park and its only public open space. Situated at the edge of the Bay, it is surrounded on three sides by the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The park's hilly terrain is not a natural feature but was part of the transformation of "Mt. Trashmore" after the landfill was closed and capped off in the mid-1980s. The many hills there provided sweeping views from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to the north, across the expanse of adjoining Greco Island, salt ponds and Bay, then down to the Dumbarton Bridge. On clear days you can see as far away as Oakland, the East Bay hills, and all the way to Mount Hamilton on the other side of San Jose. To the west can be seen the rooftops of Menlo Park and the surrounding cities to the Santa Cruz Mountains and the forested Skyline ridges.

The park's grass-covered slopes, meadows, trees, and tidal pond/wetlands have attracted numerous wildlife species. Over 60 species of birds nest in the park, in addition to many others that forage or stop off to rest on their annual migrations. Many of the current salt ponds are scheduled to be turned back into wetlands in the near future, an environmental plus for us all. When the wetlands were diked and made into salt ponds the crucial tidal flow was eliminated. But the original sloughs have remained, unchanged for over a century. The traces of these "ghost channels" give clues to the original the flow patterns and could serve as guides for restoration design.

The best part of Bayfront Park, though, is a treasure called the Great Spirit Path Sculpture. It's a "stone poem" inspired by Native American pictographs, composed of 892 rocks, together weighing over 505 tons. Local artist Susan Dunlap wrote the poem and clustered the rocks between 1981 and 1985. It is reported to be the largest sculpture of its kind in the world.

Sadly, most people don't know it exists. Display boxes once packed with maps and brochures are empty, signs of city budget cuts. Wooden markers are rotting away. Rocks are out of place or missing altogether, victims of weather, burrowing animals and vandals. We saw some graffiti etched into one of the stones.

Even sadder still, the Menlo Park city council wants to rip it all up and turn it into a golf course!! Even though public input has said leave it as it is. Shame on Menlo Park city council if they green-light the golf course!!

We saw lots of turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks relentlessly soaring over the hilltops and salt meadows. We saw black phoebes, sparrows and pigeons. We saw scores of ground squirrels. (No wonder the hawks were on patrol.) We saw hundreds and hundreds of estivating snails. Sometimes they covered the branches of trees, often up in the highest branches, in thick bunches like a traffic pile-up; sometimes they were clustered in rock crevices, sometimes under the railings of the fences on the trail. I cannot imagine what drives a snail to climb all the way up a tree into its topmost branches to estivate. Well, I cannot imagine what drives a snail to do most anything anyway, so I suppose it's just another natural history mystery.

D. and I plan to return to Bayfront Park often in the coming months. It instantly became one of our favorite place to visit. We especially look forward to seeing it in the spring when the hills are green and the wildflowers are blooming.