By Helen Fitanides
Enjoying the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic is an important part of mental and physical wellbeing. Here are some places in and around Richmond where you can access local nature. Please follow social distancing guidelines while out in nature, including keeping at least 6 feet away from those not in your household, and try to choose areas that are close to home and less likely to be crowded.
Richmond is home to over 35 miles of the Bay Trail, a planned 500-mile walking and cycling path around the entire San Francisco Bay. In Richmond, the Bay Trail links together many parks along the shoreline and is a great place to start to explore nature in this area. Starting from the south, you can enjoy beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County and Brooks Island from Point Isabel Regional Shoreline, one of several East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) parks in the Richmond area. Point Isabel is a 23-acre dog-friendly park; in normal times they allow dogs to be off-leash, but dogs must be on leash during the pandemic. You can check here for the most up-to-date information.
Traveling northeast on the shoreline, Shimada Friendship Park (the location of The Watershed Project’s Coastal Cleanup Day events), Marina Bay Park, and Barbara and Jay Vincent Park are all City of Richmond-owned parks in the Marina Bay neighborhood. These are smaller parks with lawn and picnic areas and inspiring bay views. Marina Bay Park is connected to the other two via a Bay Trail off-shoot path that takes you through Meeker Slough, where you can catch a glimpse of creek life, including perhaps the endangered Ridgway’s Rail.
Following the shoreline east, EBRPD’s Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline offers swimming beaches, picnic areas, and hiking trails with panoramic views of the North Bay Area. Continuing north on Highway 580 and toward the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, City of Richmond-owned Point Molate Beach Park is only accessible via a narrow road. Rare coastal prairie and native plant communities are present in this beachside park, which also has a pier. A further drive down an even narrower road will get you to the secluded Point San Pablo Harbor, a historic marina located behind the Chevron refinery.
Around the point and to the north is a very accessible trail called Landfill Loop, which – you guessed it – loops around West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill and provides beautiful bay views as well as a great opportunity to birdwatch. Farther north on the shoreline is Dotson Family Marsh, which has undergone recent restoration and is now connected to the Bay Trail. This stretch of trail is flat and great for beginning hikers. Lastly, Point Pinole Regional Shoreline is almost 2,500 acres of eucalyptus groves and meadows, and has a fascinating history of gunpowder manufacturing prior to being purchased by EBRPD in the 1970s.
INNER RICHMOND AND SAN PABLO
Inner Richmond doesn’t have many natural spaces left, but one exception is the Richmond Greenway, which runs from 2nd Ave to the Ohlone Greenway in El Cerrito, just north of Ohio Ave. Ultimately it will connect to the Bay Trail, and projects are in process to close the gap. Built on the spine of abandoned railroad tracks, The Watershed Project and other community groups have worked to install native plants, bioswales and rain gardens down its length. The trail is open to bikes and pedestrians.
The Richmond Greenway runs along the bottom of the Iron Triangle, a Richmond neighborhood bordered on all sides by railroad tracks (as mentioned previously, in the case of the south/Richmond Greenway side, the tracks are now abandoned). This area in particular lacks many green spaces, but several neighborhood parks can be found scattered through the largely residential area. Nevin Park, Stewart Playlot, Elm Playlot, Lucas Park, and Memorial Park are open green spaces with lawns and trees in the otherwise urbanized Iron Triangle.
North Richmond is home to Fairmead Park, near the Rollingwood Community and Rheem Creek; Hilltop Park, on the north side of Rollingwood; and Hilltop Lake Park, a 36-acre park with walking paths above the Hilltop Mall. San Pablo’s Davis Park underwent significant restoration in recent years, updating facilities and restoring plant and wildlife habitat on the banks of Wildcat Creek, which winds its way through the park. Wanlass Park, also located in San Pablo, features Rheem Creek and includes some native plant restoration and trees planted by The Watershed Project and other community groups in recent years.
EBRPD has several parks in the hills east of Richmond and San Pablo, the largest of which is Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, which extends down Wildcat Creek from Tilden Nature Area in the Berkeley Hills to Alvarado Park in Richmond. Twenty-five miles of trails extend throughout the canyon and up into the rolling hills, providing sweeping views of the bay and surrounding cities.
The unincorporated area of El Sobrante offers two smaller EBRPD parks: Sobrante Ridge Botanic Regional Preserve, an oak and bay tree parkland that is home to native plant and animal species, including the rare Alameda manzanita; and Kennedy Grove Regional Recreation Area, a shady park that’s great for family picnics and short hikes. Nearby San Pablo Reservoir, owned by the East Bay Municipal Utility District, is a great place to fish and paddle a kayak or canoe around.