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Around and onto San Francisco Bay.

Access is better . . . new parks and trails, new ways to get out on the water But the bay is still a treasure with an uncertain future Dipping a paddle, dropping a fishing line, dining at dockside, walking grassy headlands, or watching a working waterfront-a hundred delightful involvements can draw you to the waters of San Francisco Bay. A great recreational amenity for the nine counties that share its 350mile shoreline, this bay is technically an estuary-a bay-like enclosure where fresh and salt water come together. As such, it's of great significance environmentally as well-a treasure to be shared, but one that must also be guarded.

Battles to "save" the bay have ranged over decades. The subject has been a concern for Sunset since the 1960s, when the watchdog Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) was formedwith our publisher, Melvin B. Lane, as its first chairman.

Here, we offer an updated review of developments; we also help you take advantage of all the new ways to enjoy bay access (see pages 86 and 87 for a thumbnail guide). Fall is a good time to get out and experience the pleasures for yourself. If weather is normal, skies will be scrubbed clean by intermittent storms, while daytime temperatures linger around 700. And it's the year's best season for bird-watching, as winter migrators cram the wetlands.

What's been accomplished lately?

Some things have increased. Access has improved greatly New parks and trails fringe the shore. There are more ways to get out onto the water: by canoe, ocean kayak, and windsurfer, as well as by more conventional craft.

This year has seen some key developments. Legislation to create a 300-mile bay-girdling hiking and bicycling trail has been passed, and several sections are already open (see map on page 87). A voterapproved bond issue provides $25 million for a new East Bay shorefront state park, $13 million for regional parks, and $10 million for wetlands.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area has just unveiled a plan that will eventually open the entire island of Alcatraz to the public. And the 1987 federal Clean Water Act reauthorization declared the bay "an estuary of national importance"; the Environmental Protection Agency recently obtained $1.3 million for further study of water quality.

Into the bay's marshland habitats-for fall birding, hiking, fishing

November is one of the best months to get out to see one of the bay's most vital elements its marshlands. Marshes provide support to much estuary life. And in fall, they are alive with huge numbers of migratory birds.

In the north bay, you can see canvasback ducks; this area is their largest wintering spot on the coast. Around the southbay, look for striking red-billed Caspian terns. Anywhere, look for hooded mergansers, black-crowned night herons, and marbled murrelets, among many other species.

The National Audubon Society estimates that some 1.2 million birds use bay marshes each winter. And higher fall and winter tides bring birds closer to shore, making them (including the endangered clapper rail) easier to spot. Best time for close-up observation is right after a high tide begins to ebb; then, birds are nearer to viewers on shore.

Marshes are a key element of the estuary ecosystem. They serve as nursery and food producer. They contain more than 30 main plant species-cord grass, salt grass, and pickleweed are the most evident ones-that trap nutrients and reoxygenate the water. Equally important, marshes serve as a filtration system, sifting out pollutants.

There are more than a dozen marshes to visit; when you go, dress warmly, bring a bird guide and binoculars, wear old shoes, and stay on marked paths. In the north bay, Martinez Regional Shoreline, at the end of Martinez' Ferry Street, has 3 miles of trails tbrough a hundred-acre marsh along Carquinez Strait (also ball fields, picnic areas, a fishing pier). In the central east bay, try Hayward Regional Shoreline, at the end of W. Winton Avenue, in Hayward. You can hike some 2 miles of trails in this 500-acre marsh, one of the largest to be restored in the West. In the south bay, the 2 3,000-acre San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in Newark, has a visitor center and 15 miles of trails (see page 86).

While loss of wildlife habitat is a critical issue, some species are doing well. Numbers of harbor seals and sea lions are stable; you can easily spot them off Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, around the southern beaches of Angel Island, in Richardson Bay, and in Newark Slough (part of San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge). Sea lions have been hard hit recently by random shootings.

How healthy is the bay now?

In some ways, the bay is cleaner today than in past decades. The number of municipal sewage outfalls has been drastically reduced, and treatment has been improved. Some 600 million gallons of treated waste water enter the bay daily, a third more than two decades ago, but it contains only a fifth as much organic pollution as was typical in the '60s. Bay filling has stopped, and there's even been a net increase in tidal marshland.

But new issues have arisen. The bay is now afflicted by contaminants we can't see or smell, pollutants we sometimes can't pinpoint. Dredging-actual and proposed-has increased dramatically, stirring up potentially toxic materials and controversy about how to dispose of them. Increased diversion of fresh water has been linked to the decline of fish and wildlife. And the dumping of heavy metals, of proven harm to fish populations, is still inadequately regulated.

Degradation of the ecosystem isn't newhydraulic mining from the 1850s to the 1880s began a flow of sediment up to 200 feet deep in places. By the 1960s, the original 78 7-square-mile bay had been reduced by siltation and fill to 548 square miles. Huge dam projects, exports, and other diversions have removed water so that less than half of the bay's historic inflow now reaches this crucial estuary.

One certainty: many species need more fresh water. According to Perry Herrgesell, environmental service supervisor with the California Department of Fish and Game, "Fresh-water inflow plays a major role in species numbers and survival for many of the fish and invertebrates living in the bay." One fish species studied as an indicator of bay health, the striped bass (once a thriving catch, now off commercial limits), fell this year to the lowest numbers of young ever recorded.

Alan Pendleton, current director of BCDC, says, "We've achieved remarkable success in limiting bay fill and regulating polluters. But major damage has been done: we had already diked or filled 80 percent of the wetlands, and diverted up to 50 percent of its fresh-water inflow. And unless more is done to protect diked baylands and fresh-water inflow, I predict fewer and less healthy wetlands in the future."

Other threats include loss of bay-edge seasonal wetlands, and oil spills (in May, some 400,000 gallons flowed into Carquinez Strait: fast action saved one key nearby marsh, though an adjacent marsh was devastated).

Some promising notes: The Regional Water Quality Control Board this year adopted a wetlands policy, recognizing the link between healthy wetlands and good water quality in the bay And the Edwards bill (H.R. 4272), now under review, could authorize purchase of additional vital wetlands for San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Understanding the bay: seven interpretive centers

Here are some good places to learn more about how the bay functions:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Bay Model (2100 Bridegway, Sausalito) gives you a look at the whole estuary system. A 1 1/2acre scale model, built to test changes in water level, velocity, and salinity caused by structures, effluents, and dredging, operates at least once a week; for times, call (415) 332-3870. Take a self-guided or audio tour and watch films or videos; a new video explores the herring industry (December through February, you'll see herring boats docking nearby). The bay model is open 9 to 4 Tuesdays through Saturdays; free.

The Audubon Society's Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary (off Greenwood Beach Road, Tiburon) offers a short self-guided walking tour, with displays on shorebirds and local wildlife. It's open from 9 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays; admission is $2, $1 ages 6 through 17.

Coyote Point Museum (off U.S. 101 in San Mateo's Coyote Point Recreation Area) gives a good overall look at estuary ecology and includes aquariums with local eel, flounder, crab. Outside is a recovering marsh to hike through. The museum is open from 10 to 5 Wednesdays through Fridays, 1 to 5 weekends; admission is $2, $1 for ages 6 through 17.

The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center (Palo Alto Baylands, at the eastern end of Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto) has 7 miles of trails and a 120acre marsh. There are monthly lectures, slide shows, bird walks. Hours are 2 to 5 Wednesdays through Fridays, I to 5 weekends.

At Alameda's Robert Crown Memorial State Beach, the Crab Cove Visitor Center, on McKay Avenue west of Central Avenue, includes the first marine reserve on an estuary and has exhibits on sharks and how estuaries work. You can check out an "adventure pack" to explore mud-flat life or join weekend walks. Hours are 10 to 4:30 Wednesdays through Sundays; closed December through February Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center (at the foot of Clawiter Road off State 92, Hayward) sits in a 200-acre restored marsh with some 8 miles of trails. You can borrow binoculars and take a self-guided bird walk. San Francisco Bay Nationa Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center (Marshlands Road, in Newark) has just been remodeled. Exhibits on endangered species, seasonal wetlands, and winter birding help you enjoy the refuge. You can join guided marsh walks, birding van tours, or guided canoe trips (bring your own or rent locally) through the sloughs. The refuge is open from dawn to dusk daily; the visitor center's hours are 10 to 5 daily.

Where and how to get out on or close to the bay? Here's a map-guide These capsule listings point you toward some of the best new ways to get close to the bay; unless noted, telephone numbers are area code 415. Wind is a factor most days; dress accordingly

Biking. In Coyote Hills Regional Park, take the 3 1/2mile Bayview Trail loop, then turn onto 1 1/2-mile Apay Way, which crosses into San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge; there, you'll pass diked salt ponds and marshes. In San Mateo, 10mile Baylands Trail starts at Burlingame's Airport Park, winds under San Mateo Bridge, and ends in Foster City. In Alameda, a trail ftom Crab Cove Nature Center (see above) takes you past a sandy beach and bird sanctuary.

Hiking. The new GGNRA East Fort Baker Trail starts at the east end of Conzelman Road in East Fort Baker, heads out 1/2 mile under the Golden Gate Bridge's north tower for great ship-watching. For directions, call 556-0560. For a look at new parklands (including property soon to become a state park), try Berkeley's North Waterfront Park, at the end of Virginia Street off W. Frontage Road; there's a short trail for hiking, picnicking, kite flying.

Windsurfing. Watch the best almost any day off San Francisco's Crissy Field, off Marina Boulevard. Other hot spots: San Mateo's Coyote Point Park, Marin's Larkspur Landing, Hayward Regional Shoreline. Windsurfing lessons are offered at Alameda's Crown Beach, the Berkeley Marina, or Schoonmaker Point Marina, at the foot of Spring Street in Sausalito.

Marinas. At Schoonmaker Point in Sausalito, you can learn to sail, windsurf, or ocean kayak. In San Francisco, the new South Beach Marina (The Embarcadero near Second Street) has a ship restaurant, great Bay Bridge views, and a breakwater to fish from. Brisbane Marina at Sierra Point has a jogging path and a dockside restaurant.

Ferries. Bay tours are offered from Fisherman's Wharf by the Blue & Gold (781-7877) and Red & White fleets (800/ 445-8880). Red & White has ferry service to Sausalito. For at least another year, you can also ride to Vallejo and Angel Island on high-speed catamaran ferries. The Alcatraz ferry now runs every 1/2 hour from Pier 41, but it's popular: get tickets ahead, at the booth or through Ticketron. Golden Gate Ferry Division (332-6600 or 9828834) runs the Larkspur and Sausalito ferries, both of which offer weekend bargains for families (two children ages 12 and under travel free with each full-fare adult).

Kayak or canoe. To take a kayak tour of the San Francisco waterfront, call Pier 66 Paddle Sports at 558-8111, California Canoe and Kayak at 234-0929. Or tour the bay by kayak with Blue Waters Ocean Kayak Tours (4568956), California Adventures (642-4000), Mariah Wilderness Expeditions (2332303), or Sea Trek (3324457). Some operators require that you take a lesson if you lack experience.

Guided canoe trips (bring your own, or rent one locally) go into quiet bay sloughs with the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge (792-0222). Richardson Bay Audubon Center also offers canoe and kayak trips (388-2524). Or learn to row a shell at Open Water Rowing (332-1091).

Fishing piers. No license is required to fish from piers; the
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Date:Nov 1, 1988
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