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Park searches for funds to build Pinole interpretive center

on September 13, 2012

The East Bay Regional Park District is looking for $5.2 million to fund a first-of-its-kind interpretive center at Point Pinole, which would help tell the environmental and cultural history of the area through educational programs for school children and the public.

Point Pinole’s first visitors were the nearby Huchiun Native Americans, who would go to the peninsula to fish. When the Spanish arrived around 1770, Point Pinole became part of Rancho San Pablo.

The regional park on Richmond’s northern shoreline became home to Giant Powder, the country’s first dynamite company, from 1892 to 1960. Ownership of Point Pinole passed hands to Bethlehem Steel, which removed the buildings. The park district then acquired the land in pieces in the early 1970s and opened the park in 1973.

After that, the area was transformed back into open space for exercise, picnicking and bird watching, said Rick Parmer, the East Bay Regional Park District’s chief of interpretive and recreation services.

Point Pinole’s location – between both the San Pablo Bay and industrial areas – has the potential to educate students the public of the interplay between industrial development and natural history, Parmer said.

“I think that Point Pinole is a very good place to interpret the concept of environmental justice and look at ways the community can work to improve the environment while still maintaining a vibrant economy,” Parmer said.

The visitor and interpretive center would be an additional resource to naturalist-led walks through Point Pinole, said Emily Hopkins, a park district spokeswoman.

Naturalists from Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley currently staff the hikes, Parmer said.

But this vision for Point Pinole may be several years away from coming to fruition.

The park would need $5.2 million cash in hand to begin construction, district officials said.

The park district applied for three grants from the state but none were successful.

Recent grant proposals included discussion of replacing three restrooms, making a space for public art and improvements to the basketball court, trails, picnic area and playground – in addition to the 2,500-square-foot visitor center, said Jeff Rasmussen of the park district’s grants office.

The district must also improve access to Point Pinole through the Atlas Street Bridge, Parmer said. People can enter the park through Parchester Village to the south or small pedestrian accesses, but the bridge will allow the park district to more easily serve the Point Pinole, he said.

Trucks are unloading 70,000 cubic yards of dirt to the area to prepare for the bridge’s construction next year, in addition to a parking lot and other improvements. The bridge will cross over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and include a pedestrian walkway, Hopkins said.

Bridge construction is expected to be completed by 2014.

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