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Solar panels next to a water treatment pond

Wildcat Marsh Trail combines nature and industry

on September 10, 2012

As hikers crunch down the gravel pathway of the Wildcat Marsh Trail, 89 solar panels tower over a grid of wastewater treatment ponds. But over the other shoulder, coastal birds soar above the wide-open tidal marsh and pickleweed. The Wildcat Marsh Trail takes it all in in a gauntlet of manmade-meets-nature-made.

Across the marsh, a factory’s steam billows at the base of the mountains. The trail feeds into the Landfill Loop trail, where trucks buzz around on Garbage Mountain pulverizing concrete and shredding green waste.

“It’s an amazing juxtaposition of humans’ recycling and resource recovery operations with scenic vistas and rich wildlife habitats on the tidal marshes,” said Bruce Beyaert, chair of Trails for Richmond Action Committee, the city’s planning group for local trails.

Wildcat Marsh Trail is the latest addition to the San Francisco Bay Trail. When completed, the 500-mile loop will link the San Francisco and San Pablo bays; so far, Beyaert said about 340 miles have been completed.

The West County Wastewater District, which owns the land the trail now occupies, gave the East Bay Regional Park District permission to build the path. The mostly flat trail leads past the wastewater treatment facility for about a mile, leading to the Landfill Loop Trail, which offers a view of the San Pablo Bay shoreline.

On Saturday, more than 60 people celebrated the Wildcat Marsh Trail’s opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The park district’s Volunteer Trail Safety Patrol also gave away free bicycle helmets in observance of National Bike Safety Month. Local leaders, including Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, spoke about the importance of community access to nature.

The trail is especially important for lower income communities because it gives residents recreational space for walking or biking, said Whitney Dotson, a member of the East Bay Regional Park District board.

“This will be just perfect for them,” he said.

Dotson, whose district includes Richmond, said the new trail will make more of the shoreline accessible to residents. It’s particularly important for Richmond because so much of the city lies on the bay, he said.

“The whole bay has historically not been available to the general public other than in prehistoric time,” he said.

So far, Richmond leads the way in the number of miles of Bay Trail completed with more than 31 miles. There are 10.8 miles left to complete in the city, Beyaert said. The city recently allocated money to close gaps at Ferry Point. Beyaert said Point Richmond and Point Molate trails are in various stages of planning.

“It’s just another feather in our cap in Richmond,” McLaughlin said Saturday. “We as human beings are part of nature … and we are empowered by being out in nature.”

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