Peter Hayes used to come to Fleming Point, just behind Golden Gate Fields, regularly to practice Tai Chi. “I don’t think that’s going to last much longer,” he said. Now, a bright yellow bulldozer and a trampled dirt road indicate that change is afoot.
On Oct. 18th, work began on a 15-month project to add a new stretch to the Bay Trail. Overseen by the East Bay Regional Park District, construction is underway on a one-mile section that will close one of the remaining gaps in the East Bay — between Berkeley and Albany. The $7.5 million project will connect McLaughlin Eastshore State Park with the Albany Bulb, from Buchanan Street to Gilman Street, making it possible for someone to walk all the way from Oakland to Richmond along the trail.
Though Hayes may have lost his Tai Chi spot, he believes that opening up the trail will bring local residents more in touch with the environment in which they live. “People here are almost living with their back to the Bay,” he said. “If it helps that, this will be a big success.”
Susan Moffat, the founder of local community group Love The Bulb, agrees. “Completing the Bay Trail is good for everyone’s health, mental health, exercise and experiencing the environment in a really intimate way,” she said.
For her, linking the trail also will mean people who have been avoiding the trail because it was incomplete will now visit. “There’s been a lot of barriers due to lack of connectivity, small, but very important barriers,” she said. Connecting the trail between Berkeley and Albany, she says, will make experiencing the area’s natural environment more equitable.
The Bay Trail, a project that was conceived in 1987 and launched two years later, is a planned 500-mile loop around the Bay Area. If completed, it will run through 47 cities in all nine Bay Area counties. Today, about 350 of the 500 miles have been built, making the project around 70% complete.
“Things have finally come together,” said Dave Mason, public information officer for East Bay Regional Park District. “There’s definitely been interest in public access and more services.”
The process of adding more trails is long and complex. According to the Park District, the “low-hanging fruit” has already been built, meaning completing the trail is getting ever more difficult. Though plans have been in place for many years, each addition must first go through feasibility checks, regulatory processes and community consultation.
However, not all park users feel that they have had their voice heard. Pam Delfi visits the area almost every day, either to walk her dogs Grace and Fitz, or to cycle in neighboring McLaughlin Park. She feels that discussions about how public space is used along the Berkeley shoreline are not made accessible enough to those that use it.
“They really don’t do a good job of putting up signs,” she said. “It would be good to have more communication.” Although she supports the extension of the trail, she also worries that increased foot traffic will bring more rules and regulations, such as restricting where she can bring her dogs.
Others feel that $7.5 million is a steep price to pay for a coastal pathway. Erin Mansfield and Sybil Meyer meet about once a week to walk Mansfield’s Chihuahua-Basenji mix, Toby. “You’d think there’d be a way to do it for less,” Meyer said.
“I’m with Sybil,” said Mansfield, “but I’m glad they’re doing it. The continuity would be fantastic.” One day Mansfield hopes to be able to walk the whole 500 miles.
Additions to the Bay Trail are made on a rolling basis. Last year, a segment was added at Dotson Family Marsh in Richmond and a half-mile path was added at Pinole Shores in Pinole along San Pablo Bay.
Hayes believes the park authorities need to go beyond simply building a path in order for the project to be a success. According to him, the trail is an opportunity to connect Bay Area residents to their history. Golden Gate Fields, for example, was once part of the Rancho San Antonio, before becoming the site of an explosives factory. “If it just creates rapid transit, that’s not enough,” he said. “[The trail] needs to link people to the Bay itself.”
While the footpath is being extended along the Berkeley shoreline, East Bay Regional Park District is also working on a habitat restoration at Albany Beach. The project, which will cost approximately $2.5 million, aims to reinstate and replant the area’s dune system, which has deteriorated in recent years. The beach is closed for five months during construction.
The ecosystem is also threatened by sea level rise, as well as encroaching urban development. The restoration aims to preserve and expand the beach, providing a natural resource and learning environment for locals. The project, started in early August, is ahead of schedule, and developers hope to complete it by the end of the year.
By the end of 2019, it will be possible to walk through the entire stretch to the Albany Bulb beyond. Moffat can’t wait. “Those of us who love the Bulb, the beach and its wildness think that connecting the trail is a great thing,” she said. “Because more people will be able to access this beautiful place.”