by Amy Clark
When I moved to the Bayview in 2008, I discovered that my dog Danny and I could walk two blocks down Van Dyke to the end, pick our way around the ever-present illicit garbage dump, slip past the fence and the junkyard with its cats, and find ourselves in a beautiful wild area on Yosemite Slough. It didn’t have a name for me then, it was just “the wild area at the end of the street where I take my dog.”
The path led through beautiful and abundant wildflowers which I picked for my kitchen table, by the abandoned boat perched on a small rise in the grass, past the concrete jetty where teenagers came to hang, the occasional homeless camper and an abandoned community garden, all the way to the “Under Environmental Investigation for Hazardous Substances—KEEP OUT” sign posted on the barbed-wire fence.
The path circled back again, through an open area where I discovered dog-owners came regularly to let their friends run free. Several abandoned warehouses hunkered there, in precarious condition, with bold graffiti art splashed across imposing walls. Twice, on a Sunday in the early dawn, I found happy and still partying ravers, their cars parked in the grass, holding their red plastic beer cups.
I met a chef who showed me pictures on his phone of his underground locovore restaurant. I met a young couple, clearly still in love, and their enormous, jolly black dog. I ran into one of the many artists from the studio across the street (Cataclysmic Megashear Ranch), and occasionally a friendly neighbor whose name I regretfully never learned. There was a frightening Rottweiler-Pit mix, off-leash, whose owner did not seem to have control or responsibility for his companion. But the area was wonderful for the sense of freedom, a convenient place two minutes away from my door. Danny ran free, chased rabbits, and smelled the flowers.
I looked out on the inlet and saw abandoned tires, a destroyed boat, random concrete pilings and enormous growths of rebar exposed at low tide. There were (and are) the several housing projects across the water which I know are oppressed by high cancer rates likely due to the Naval Shipyard Superfund site with its buried plutonium treasures and toxic construction waste. They are framed in the background by the luxury condos built on the hill behind, and the City Park Restoration Area at the top of Key Street where once I had been startled by a bobcat.
It was a striking place to be, particularly at sunrise and sunset, with the light and the silence and the green, the neighborhood using it peacefully and with pleasure.
The area has become the San Francisco Estuary Project in partnership with California State Parks. According to their website:
The two-phase restoration of Yosemite Slough will create the largest contiguous wetland area in the County of San Francisco. The project will help restore essential wildlife habitat, improve water quality, and prevent erosion along the shoreline of the City of San Francisco—an area of the bay where tidal wetlands have been most impacted and suffered the greatest loss due to urbanization.
So no more off-leash dog walks. But I wonder, could this be a milestone in the environmental cleanup of the neighborhood, and a gift to the entire Bay Delta?
Dog-owners still visit. The garbage at the cul-de-sac is mostly gone, for now; all buildings have been removed, and there are no more wildflowers or invasive pampas-grass. The ground has been ploughed under, leaving a hard corrugated effect that is a danger to my dog and his bad knees. But that is what comes with phase one of the project, and what creates the foundation for the landscape to come.
A gravel road runs through, and (thank goodness) they have spared one beautiful tree next to which is a dumpster with the tag “radiation tree.” The tree is still very beautiful, and intelligent. It anchors the place for me.
The coastline is carefully delineated and re-formed, so the tides will flow cleanly and create new homes for migratory birds and sea-life. The slough is part of the underground water system that runs from the Bayview to the Presidio, where the indigenous Ohlone once had summer camps. If all goes according to plan, soon there will be a visitor center and disability access, and the land will be actively protected and maintained.
I have taken my students to the other end of the system and to Heron’s Head Park many times. It is interesting to imagine the network of water that runs under the city, and the river that rushed down what is now 18th Street.
I’m glad that Yosemite Slough has been adopted. While I’m sad that Danny has lost an off-leash playground, I know that, with all the other parks in the area, he and I will do fine. I do wonder how the project fits in with other projects, projects that focus on people as well as the birds. I wonder how many other neighbors know about the project, and what their perspective might be.
What is certain is that, in the four years since I moved here, much has changed, and much has stayed the same.