Sunday, October 20, 2013

Environmental Volunteers - Eric McKee - October 2013

Eric McKee Leads EcoCenter Canoe Trip
October 20, 2013

The Environmental Volunteers (EV) EcoCenter occupies a renovated Sea Scout building by the edge of San Francisco Bay, in the Palo Alto Baylands. EV Educational Programs Coordinator, Eric McKee, recently led a small group canoe trip from the nearby Palo Alto Baylands boat launch (Sailing Station) area. I joined the participants, and we heard about water sampling and bay ecosystems. We saw tiny, wriggling amphipods that shorebirds feast upon, as well as circular indentations in the mud made by bat rays. Perhaps best of all, we experienced the Bay from a different perspective -- gliding through water channels and around islands of marsh vegetation, from shorebird eye level. I later asked Eric a few questions.

What were your first impressions of the San Francisco Bay?

My first impressions of the San Francisco Bay were of the salt ponds of the southern San Francisco Bay. It seemed strange to me that so much habitat was being used for essentially agriculture, for growing salt. Being from the east coast, I was also so intrigued by the diversity of wildlife that utilizes the Bay, so many different species of ducks and waterfowl, coexisting with shorebirds, and pelicans, and from time to time, even sharks and seals!

What is your favorite craft/boat, or preferred way to get around and experience San Francisco Bay?

(I like walking, but) my favorite way to get around the Bay (on the water) is by canoe. They are such stable crafts; you get to be so close to the water, and having been in them in freshwater ponds as a kid, I feel very comfortable in them, even if my butt gets wet from time to time. Also you can put a lot of gear and snacks in them.

Are visitors to the EV EcoCenter surprised by what they see or learn about the Baylands?

I find that visitors to the Baylands are often surprised by two things: first by the variation in the environment due to the tides. Depending on the time of year (and orientation of earth, sun, and moon), the tide can rise and fall over eight feet as the Bay's waters ebb and flow. People sometimes look at me like I have two heads as we look out over the open water, and I tell them that in a few hours, there will be open mudflats, with a slight trickling path (water channel) meandering through the sloughs.

Second, the wildlife -- mainly the marine life. Here in the southern San Francisco Bay, we can play host to freshwater fishes like salmon and trout, as well as oceanic creatures like leopard sharks and bat rays. They are out foraging in the waters of the Baylands every single day. After all, we are connected to the vast Pacific Ocean; so why not?

Do you find visitors have any misconceptions about the Bay?
I think people are surprised to realize just how important the marshlands of the San Francisco Bay are to our way of life, and their importance to wildlife and biodiversity. Our marshlands are habitats for two federally endangered species, as well as several threatened species, and are important migratory staging locations for birds, some traveling all the way from South America! After hearing that, people are generally shocked to find that over 90% of wetlands surrounding the San Francisco Bay have been lost over time, but thankfully with efforts like the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, and SF Bay Water Trail, people will have increased access and opportunities to enjoy what remains, while growing a promising future for this ecosystem.

Any unusual sightings you've experienced, or heard about?

I have heard of many people sighting pink flamingos feeding on brine shrimp in the salt ponds - but have not had the pleasure to sight them. My favorite animal I have seen in action was a Belted Kingfisher, perched in a cottonwood tree above a slough, diving into the water. I was taken back by the action of its flight, its unique body shape, and the fact that this bird had such an easy time going from the tree to under the water and back again.

Do you have a favorite spot in the San Francisco Bay?

Currently, the Palo Alto Baylands are my favorite spot because I get to work in a building adjacent to them, but I also love looking out at the newly restored areas along the Dumbarton bridge and seeing all of the egrets, pelicans, shorebirds, and waterfowl.

What would you tell people about the new San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail?

I am excited at the prospect of increasing access to recreational opportunities with the Water Trail. Specifically, the City of Palo Alto and their Open Space Rangers, will be looking at making the Baylands boat launch more accessible for Handicap persons, and I am hopeful that with these projects, even more people will be out enjoying this incredibly unique local resource.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sup. Dave Cortese - Day on the Bay in Alviso - Oct. 2013

Photo: Dave Cortese website
Supervisor Dave Cortese Discusses the Water Trail, Alviso
October 8, 2013

This interview was spurred by the fourth annual Day on the Bay (October 13, 2013), in Alviso, CA, at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. While overlapping with San Jose, CA, Alviso has a special history all its own, and (the Alviso Marina) will be celebrated as a designated Water Trail site this week. Supervisor Dave Cortese, a founder of the Day on the Bay celebration, was excited about Alviso's rich cultural past as well as the area's bright prospects for the future.

I caught up with the busy Santa Clara County Supervisor, who represents District 3, by phone.

(Note: after the interview, this post was updated on Oct. 20, '13, to include photos of the Day on the Bay 2013. Photos appear below. The event was a success, and several dozens of people waited in line for kayak rides after the Alviso Marina site was officially designated.)

How did you become interested in the San Francisco Bay Trail and the San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail? 

"(I'm) one of the Supervisors who has a lot of assignments at the regional level. I was appointed to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), and was the president of ABAG for (a while). I then was appointed to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and various committees.

I received a report on the Water Trail and a Powerpoint presentation, and became interested. I was chairing a meeting and talked with Laura Thompson (ABAG SF Bay Trail project mgr.) about following up on (promoting) the County Marina (in Alviso). "Do we qualify for being a part of this (Water Trail)?" I thought.

In a perfect world, what would be your vision of the San Francisco Bay Water Trail?

I have a desire for Alviso to be (the) South Bay's version of (what) the Bay should be.

Each of the major cities have, as part of their identity, a port, e.g. Port of Oakland, or San Francisco;  and we have lesser versions of the same kind of relationships (Redwood City). Then you have San Jose, a large city, with lots of bayfront. (And) it's a big secret.

I noticed that you're involved in the Silicon Valley Kids Climate Club. What are you seeing in the next generation of leaders that might help ?
Alviso - Day on the Bay

Yes, young people in Alviso are aware (about the Bay and climate change). It's in their back yards. I visited Alviso schools where they were very close to the water. The embrace the shoreline.

Those kids are no different than the other 450,000 (approximate #) of other kids in Santa Clara County. It's almost tragic. There is a dramatic underutilization of a natural resource. It's a perfect natural laboratory -- and one way to put Alviso back on the map,... (we haven't had something like this) since the days of Jack London.*

The South Bay can become perhaps the best recreation access point, with nature, the marine ecosystem (that we have). It's a great opportunity to create a place (on the Trail) where we have sunshine almost year round. We have a marine access point to Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge (DEWR, aka Don Edwards SF Bay National Wildlife Refuge) that we haven't capitalized on in Santa Clara County.

I talk to kids -- in Santa Cruz, San Diego, other cities (water is a major part of their identity, yet it hasn't caught on here). Yet, when you look at what we built -- bay access to DEWR. There isn't any major city that has that.

Do you have a favorite water craft of type of boat (kayak, canoe?) that you, or your family, have enjoyed taking out on the Bay?

No, I'm not really there quite yet. I love getting outdoors, as much as my schedule permits. I do have two boys, who may be interested. We'll probably get into this soon.

Are there any misunderstandings that the public seem to have about the Bay Trail or the Water Trail that prevent them from fully enjoying these public resources?

(There is a) basic lack of information. For example, there was a big car show last week. I was meeting with some people there. And one of the kids asked where (the Bay Trail, Marina and Water Trail) were? This, even though we were just a few miles away.

Just designating Alviso (as part of the Water Trail on Sunday, October 13), will help increase awareness. (Kayakers will be there at the unveiling to paddle from the marina out into the Bay. See photos.)

The last two photographs of kayaks at Alviso (taken before the event): Courtesy of Galli Basson

*Famous author Jack London used to boat down to Alviso. Supervisor Cortese mentioned old photographs that show Alviso's rich history. "Wedding receptions were held there, groups of judges hung out there, there were farm families (who influenced the area)." Cortese acknowledged that some may have been put off by the large sewage treatment plant that was built in the area; but there are many other things to see (such as the educational center by the water, walking trails (Bay Trail, Guadalupe River Trail), and the historic town of Alviso itself).