By Dan Kirk
There are many creeks and streams that flow through East Bay watersheds, and for the most part, they are not in their natural form. Up in the hills towards the east, you may be able to see streams, walk near them and maybe dip your toes in them if there isn’t a sign telling you otherwise. In the more urbanized areas down towards the bay, the streams are often hidden, underground, engineered, dirty, and don’t have a suitable creek ecosystem to support them. As cities try to support community health, transportation, and ecosystem resilience, among other things, sometimes this takes the form of watershed restoration projects.
The City of San Pablo has just completed one such restoration project: The Wildcat Creek Restoration and Greenway Trail. Located between Vale Road and Church Lane near the San Pablo Library, the project stretches 2,200 linear feet and includes refuge areas for fish, a modified floodplain to support larger flow volumes, a widened creek corridor and the re-planting of native plants on the restored banks. The project also allows for community access to open space along the creek, through a shared-use biking and walking path, look-outs, benches and tables (along this trail, these spaces are called “pocket parks”).
Basically, the creek had been abandoned up until the restoration project first began – it was unsafe, dirty, hidden and inaccessible and was also a place where flooding occurred due to its previous narrow bed and the surrounding concrete areas where water could not be absorbed or filtered. When the City of San Pablo first began to develop into an urbanized area, creek ecosystems, just like many other natural ecosystems, were overlooked, modified, tamed or completely transformed. Wildcat Creek was one such creek where the natural creek banks were replaced with concrete and dense non-native vegetation. Over time, this caused the creek to stop functioning as a creek and it became more of an engineered channel that wasn’t safe for the community. Because San Pablo is such an urban area and because the creek had become so unhealthy, the Wildcat Creek Watershed Council and the City of San Pablo formed a partnership to address the creek and surrounding area and envisioned a space where the community, humans and non-humans alike, could recreate, find respite, and overall enjoy a cleaner and safer place.
“It is true when people say: ‘It takes a village, and in our case, a city, to make projects like these to work.’”Elizabeth Pabon-Alvarado, Mayor of San Pablo
This project is community-based and therefore required input, consultation, support and approval from community members, local organizations, watershed non-profits (like The Watershed Project), government officials, county and district entities, archeologists, ecologists, scientists, engineers, architects and numerous other groups to truly manifest the Wildcat Creek Restoration and Greenway Trail. Community members asked for ways to decrease flooding and provide a safer area around the creek; the creek asked for more native vegetation, natural creek bank support, habitat diversity and of course, cleaner water. Now, after a lot of hard work, those needs have been met.
The trail is now officially open to the public, so if you have the opportunity to visit, you won’t be disappointed!