Potential seen in restoration plan
Posted on Sunday, May. 22, 2005
By Paula King
OAKLEY - Hundreds of acres along the Delta once slated for thousands of homes are now destined to become learning grounds for ecological restoration.
The 1,166-acre Dutch Slough wetland restoration project promises to contribute to the scientific understanding of marsh restoration on a grand scale.
"That whole area of the Delta and that southern side of the Delta, so much of that has been paved over for development or drained for farmland," said David Lewis , executive director of Save the Bay. "It (Dutch Slough) is unpaved, undeveloped and restorable."
The area once housed grazing and dairy operations and was later slated by the county for the development of 6,000 new homes. Public pressure coupled with some of the key landowners' desires to preserve the land helped secure the open space for the restoration project.
The project promises to enhance habitats, benefit native species and preserve open space in this area of rapid urbanization.
"I think as it becomes successful, it will create similar opportunities for this to be done elsewhere," Lewis said. "What would be great is for years from now for people to say that Dutch Slough is not unique."
This vast plot of pristine land is surrounded by Marsh Creek, the Contra Costa Water District Canal and Jersey Island Road. The intense scents of more than a 100 years of grazing and dairy operations still linger.
Since the California Department of Water Resources acquired the property in fall 2003 for $28 million, it has worked with the California Coastal Conservancy, Natural Heritage Institute and city of Oakley on the ongoing planning. Longtime property owners, the Emerson, Burroughs and Gilbert families, have also worked closely with the agencies involved.
"It is just absolutely gorgeous. It is one of the only places that you can have access to in East County and be removed from city life and be at one with nature," said Carol Bomarito-Dickinson, one of the longtime residents who advocated for stewardship of the land.
"I think it is a great thing not just for the city of Oakley, but for the state of California. I think that they have approached it with a deep concern for what they are going to be doing."
The three main goals of the project are public access, endangered species restoration and a better knowledge of restoration science in the Delta ecosystem, according to NHI senior restoration ecologist Sarah Beamish Puckett.
It is also being touted as a future gateway to far East County and a regional destination point. By acquiring a total of 90 acres in the agreement, the city is considering the area as a potential location for sports tournaments and festivals.
The area could house up to four miles of open trails and a 55-acre community park on the southern end with a five-acre swimming lagoon, group picnic areas, adult fitness amenities, vistas in the tidal wetlands area and a launch facility for nonmotorized watercrafts. Waterfront access may be incorporated into eight acres at the end of Jersey Island Road with a full-fledged marina.
"First of all, wetland restoration is extremely important in California," Oakley Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Kaiser said. "Being aware of the possibilities out there, it is going to put Oakley on the map."
The city hired 2M Associates to gain public input on amenities and access. It will draft a plan for the community park and public access portion of the restoration project.
The Department of Water Resources is managing and leasing the property to private cattle grazers until the restoration process begins, according to Beamish Puckett. Some of the funding is still uncertain, but financial support is expected to come from DWR, the Coastal Conservancy and the California Bay-Delta Authority.
A recent Dutch Slough Day provided residents a sneak preview of the proposed project. Attendees learned more about the area's native birds and animals and how the project will enhance public access to the Delta shoreline. Through canoe rides and guided nature hikes at the former Emerson Dairy property, residents have started envisioning its potential.
"The topography and elevation of this site makes it possible for wetland restoration," Beamish Puckett said.
Surrounded by the East Cypress corridor, Dutch Slough is in the middle of the area's hub of residential and commercial development. Those anticipated neighborhoods will be linked to Marsh Creek and Dutch Slough via parks and trails, according to city officials.
Two of the historic homes on the property will be incorporated into the community park to honor the legacy of 19th century farming. The Emerson home was originally built in 1862 as the Iron House School. It will be relocated to the park site and may be transformed into a museum or nature center, Kaiser said.
Facing the Delta to the north, the Gilbert home is already situated on the park site and offers spectacular Delta views and opportunities for historical and environmental interpretation. The Burroughs home was not included in the park project because of its advanced age and poor condition.
"This is a very unique opportunity," Kaiser said. "It is a community and regional park and not many cities get the opportunity to have those right in their own back yards."
The project team hopes to open a one-mile East Bay Regional Park District trail on the paved portion of the Emerson levee in the next few years. In the next year or so, it also hopes to open Dutch Slough again, with additional canoeing on Emerson Slough, docent-guided tours, public education programs and volunteer habitat restoration groups.
As president of the Delta Science Center committee, Oakley resident Mike Painter described that entire region as crucial open space in educating people about ecology and the Delta overall. The evolving Delta Science Center at Big Break is adjacent to the western edge of the Dutch Slough site.
He added that the project could transform East County into a hotbed for budding biologists and ecologists.
"Brentwood has defined their identity and Oakley is just starting to do that," Painter said. "It is going to be a place that is unique for Oakley. The people of Oakley will be able to go out and enjoy the outdoors."
Paula King covers Oakley. Reach her at 925-779-7189 or firstname.lastname@example.org.