National Park Service (NPS) agents in the East Bay have been working with administrators from the city of Richmond and other community partners since last year to create a wellness trail for Richmond as part of their “Park Prescription Initiative.”
Their hope is that constructing a wellness trail will revitalize a two-and-a-half mile stretch of primarily unkempt city streets into a walkable path, giving Richmond residents more options for healthy and safe outdoor enjoyment. The trail will incorporate bike lanes, wider sidewalks, art installations, and more trees and benches to make these streets nicer for pedestrians, and to connect many existing and future revitalization projects.
The trail will begin at the Kaiser facility on Nevin Avenue leading to the Richmond Greenway Trail—an existing lively pedestrian and bike path—and continue from the intersection of the greenway and Marina Way down to Richmond harbor, in anticipation of the proposed San Francisco ferry port. NPS officials hopes the project will be approved by the city’s planning commission—and that construction will begin—by the end of this year, said Tom Leatherman, superintendent of five NPS East Bay sites.
Leatherman said that when people think about national parks, they usually envision destinations like Yosemite. But “in urban areas we have an opportunity to reach a larger population who might not be familiar with national parks because they aren’t in rural areas and lot of our national parks are,” he said.
“Our goal is to connect every place that people want to go, whether they’re 6 years old or in a wheelchair,” said Kieron Slaughter, urban fellow at Rosie the Riveter National Park and a collaborator on the project. He said that the most intensive part of this plan is to revamp the high-traffic Marina Way, installing cycle tracks, or multi-direction bike lanes separated from car traffic, which will make it possible for bikers and pedestrians to access the the harbor from 16th Street by the BART station.
On Sunday, members of the NPS held the first meeting to discuss the proposed plan with the community and hear their feedback. The meeting had about 16 attendees, many from local partnerships providing input for this project like Rich City Rides and the Richmond Main Street Initiative. Together, they took a guided walk along the first part of the proposed trail.
As meeting attendees stretched in preparation for the walk, Sally Sheridan, the rivers, trails and conservation assistant programmer with NPS, and Josh Meyer, director of community planning of the local government commission, posed questions and explained the value of getting community feedback. “As we walk along the trail be thinking: Where do you want enhanced lighting? Where could a painted sidewalk be beneficial?” asked Sheridan.
She urged attendees to consider where they would want ramps in the sidewalk, where along the trail they would be likely to exercise, and where they would want to sit on a bench. “Does traffic move too fast here?” Sheridan asked. “Is there enough shade? More trees?” She asked them to note whenever they spotted large amounts of trash, or graffiti that could be turned into a mural.
Leatherman added that NPS members also wanted to hear community members’ stories to incorporate into the wellness trail. “What we hope to do here in Richmond is say, ‘This is your history and we want to help tell that story,’” he said.
Slaughter lead the group down the first segment of the proposed trail, asking questions and pointing out where expanded sidewalks would be useful for seeing around parked cars. One attendee proposed a piece of artwork illustrating the diverse history of iconic Macarthur Avenue.
“I’m very excited” for the trail, said Richmond resident Rose Burns as she walked along the tour. “For them to be doing a trail for everyone that’ll connect to the greenway, that’s awesome.” Burns frequently rides the San Francisco Bay trail from Richmond down to Oakland is excited that the wellness trail will make even more of her city bikeable when it’s finished.
Najari Smith, the executive director of Rich City Rides, a non-profit that leads monthly wellness rides, said he’s currently testing a bike rental system that he hopes will work nicely next to the wellness trail. He has been working closely with NPS to support and advise on the wellness trail planning process.
A member of the walking group asked how to ensure that current residents would keep benefitting from future developments like the trail, and how to keep development from leading to gentrification. Smith responded that NPS and the community partners should create initiatives for residents to start local businesses so they’re anchored to the community. Walkers agreed that the future construction should hire local workers, and the art installed should be local artists’ work.
Smith said he is working on getting BART to approve indoor bike parking at the Richmond station so that a larger group of people will feel comfortable and safe utilizing BART. He also plans to open the bike service center that’s currently part of Rich City Rides at earlier hours to address the needs of early morning riders who’ll bike to BART.
Diallo Washington, an 11-year-old biker who came with Smith on the tour, chimed in: “I think what needs to change is the sidewalk. And there needs to be more space for people to walk and kids to play and be safe.”
Richmond resident Sequoia Erasmus, who brought her family and their three dogs on the walking tour, said she’ll also use the trail on her bike. “Wellness means the ability to make healthy decisions and have choices that include healthy options,” she said. “Any time we make something safer and more friendly for active forms of transportation, it increases where people go and density of people not in cars. And having people around makes it safer.”
The walk ended at the Richmond Greenway Trail with a lunch and performance by a youth steel drum band from East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.
The date of the walk was chosen to coincide with the first National Park Prescription Day, part of an initiative to have healthcare providers prescribe that their patients to spend more time outside. The goal is to promote the use of parks and nature to improve heath. The parks service hosted guided walks throughout the country, and announced plans in certain cities to make urban parks and green spaces more accessible.
In Richmond, the proposed trail addresses six concepts benefits that the NPS agents want to improve in the community, Leatherman said: youth connection; outdoor recreation; historic preservation; economic vitality; urban sustainability and health. “What we want to do is raise awareness of open-space parks,” said Leatherman. “We want to help people understand that parks belong to everyone.”
Slaughter said that for inspiration, the NPS members designing Richmond’s plan have looked to Berkeley for its bicycle boulevards, to cities like Minneapolis and Boston for their cycle tracks, and to Portland and Seattle for their public outdoor fitness zones, art installations in public areas, and large pedestrian crosswalks. They’re also using the Arkansas Medical Mile Trail as a direct model—that trail has artwork installed along the way to inspire healthy living, said Leatherman, such as paintings by local artists that advocate for healthy eating and against smoking.
NPS will hold the next community meeting in July or August, and it will be a three-day design workshop open to the public for their input. From there, the wellness trail plan will go to the city council for approval.