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2 weeks of Bay tours let you see salt harvesting.

2 weeks of Bay tours let you see salt harvesting

The water's a farm at San Francisco Bay's south end. Here the Leslie Salt Company uses 40,000 acres of bay-edge ponds, including a large stretch from Redwood City to Newark, to harvest salt from sea water. This month, as part of Leslie's celebration of its 50th anniversary, you're invited to watch the harvest process (for insurance reasons, public tours have not been offered for more than five years).

A salt crop takes about five years to mature. Salt water is pumped into a series of shallow evaporation ponds to the northwest; from there, it is gradually moved southeast toward the processing plant, in Newark.

The final ponds are smaller and shallower, with water that's increasingly saline. The water ends in saturated crystallizing areas, where the salt precipitates out. Different forms of life--from algae to brine shrimp--flourish at different stages, intensifying the ponds' strange hues of brown to pink and henna.

A salt farmer hopes for a warm, dry summer with lots of wind--perfect conditions to speed evaporation and increase yield. Harvesting begins in late September and can last 3 1/2 months. In this season, salt is piled into open train cars, then washed, stacked, refined, and packaged.

Tours, exhibits. You can see the harvest on free 30-minute tours this month. They're offered between 9 and 2 on Saturdays, October 18 and November 1, and-- by appointment--between 8 and noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays, October 21, 23, 28, 30, and November 4. Call (415) 797-1820 for reservations.

You can also see a display of equipment used in the early days (salt has been extracted from the Bay since 1854), enter a tent with historic exhibits and photographs, and view a videotape showing how salt is processed.

To get there from the Peninsula, take the Dumbarton Bridge (State 84) east to Newark; turn right on Thornton Avenue, then turn right on Willow Street to Central Avenue. Leslie Salt is at 7220 Central Avenue. From the Nimitz Freeway (formerly State 17, now I-880) in the East Bay, take the Thornton Avenue exit west, then turn left on Cherry Street and right on Central.

Bird-watching. There's quite a bit of bird life around some of the ponds--much of Leslie Salt property is in the 22,000-acre San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. You can hike the levees and birdwatch from trails starting at the refuge's visitor center, just off Thornton Avenue, at the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge; it's open 10 to 5 daily, free.

Photo: Crystallizing bed is salt-rimmed but not ready for harvest; tour group looks past it to watch harvester cars pulled out by diesel engine. At right, 1919 photograph shows how early cars were hand-unloaded
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Title Annotation:Leslie Salt Co.
Date:Oct 1, 1986
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