2011-11-23 "Candlestick Point wetland reclaimed as key habitat; Long buried in debris, vital wetland near Candlestick Point to welcome back birds" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The newest restored wetland in San Francisco was little more than a mound of mud surrounded by water Tuesday, but the messy quagmire was like gold to Elizabeth Goldstein.
The executive director of the California State Parks Foundation stood ankle deep in sticky wet clay at Yosemite Slough and called to everyone around, "Look, over your head - a red-tailed hawk being chased by a crow!"
The 7-acre site at Candlestick Point State Recreation Area was officially reclaimed as a wetland by the incoming high tide Tuesday, and the hawk and crow were the first wildlife visitors.
That's a pretty good start for a location that was until recently covered with decrepit warehouses and discarded construction debris.
Two new tidal bays and a sandy shell-covered island designed exclusively for birds are the featured attractions in this $9 million first phase of the restoration of Yosemite Slough Wetlands, a 10-year-old project by the parks foundation and California State Parks to bring bayside recreation to Bayview-Hunters Point.
"What you are seeing are the two bays that we've been dreaming of for almost a decade," Goldstein said, pointing out the flooded wetland that workers created out of a diked area on the slough's northeast side.
"This was a very important project for the community - not only for the recreation but because it is an environmental justice project" that involved the removal of polluted soil, toxic substances and rubble, she said.
Priority habitat for birds -
The area, like much of the San Francisco shoreline, was historically a wetland and a major stop on the Pacific Flyway, providing important habitat for the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.
About 80 percent of wetlands and marshes around the Bay Area have been filled over the past century, a catastrophe for shorebirds and mammals. Because of wetlands' ability to absorb high tides, the destruction of the habitat concerns scientists who foresee the inundation of entire coastlines because of climate change over the next century.
Tidal mudflats and shallow ponds were recently highlighted by conservationists as a priority habitat for the 1 million shorebirds believed to visit San Francisco Bay every year. A recent PRBO Conservation Science report urged communities around the bay to begin identifying areas where tidal marshes can be expanded or created.
Much of the tidal marshland that was filled in along the Bayview-Hunters Point shoreline was incorporated into the Candlestick recreation area when it became California's first urban state park in 1977.
The new 7-acre marsh area is part of the Yosemite Slough Restoration plan, which will return 34 acres of shoreline to its natural state, creating the largest contiguous wetland area in San Francisco.
Buildings cleared -
Four metal warehouse buildings, including a 4,000-square-foot former woodworking shop, were removed from the site in June. Workers also removed more than 3,500 pounds of debris, including chunks of concrete, asphalt and bricks. The dirt was sifted and tested for lead, arsenic and petroleum. The polluted dirt was removed and cleaned.
The compacted soil was removed to create the tidal marsh, and the dike holding back the bay was breached last Wednesday, said George Salvaggio, the landscape architect for WRA Inc., which designed the project. On Tuesday, the tide was at its highest point since the breach, creating the two bays and the piece de resistance - bird island.
"We're giving it back to the bay, and with that we are giving it life," Salvaggio said, nodding toward the island that not a single bird had yet discovered.
Planting grasses -
There is still a lot of work to do. Native grasses will be planted to stabilize the muddy shoreline, and in the spring, 40,000 shrubs and plants will be added for erosion control. As many as 40 children involved in the local Literacy for Environmental Justice program are raising the shrubbery and are expected to help with the planting.
An additional $10 million will be spent restoring 13 more acres, including 5 acres of wetland, on the opposite side of Yosemite Slough over the next three years. Up to $4 million more will be spent adding an interpretive center, parking, a trail around the site, picnic tables, restrooms and lawns by 2015, when the project is expected to be completed.
The parks foundation plans to raise money for the rest of the project given that the park system is broke and Candlestick Point is on the state's closure list. Park officials and supporters believe the long-term environmental benefits will outweigh what they hope is at most a short-term closure.
"We're reaching our goal, which is the restoration of the disappearing wetlands environment on the bay," said Ann Meneguzzi, the supervising ranger for the recreation area. "It is wonderful and rare to see an area created where people can come, enjoy themselves and be safe while experiencing nature in the city."