Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Berkeley Aquatic Park

Berkeley Aquatic Park is a public park on the western edge of Berkeley.  It was built between 1935 and 1937 using Works Progress Act (WPA) funding.  It was built at the same time as the Berkeley Yacht Harbor, now known as the Berkeley Marina.

The lagoon, as seen from the pedestrian bridge.
The park is remarkable for being tied in with a network of nearby WPA and New Deal projects (the Berkeley Marina, the Eastshore Freeway, the approaches to the Bay Bridge, etc.), but I know about it for three main reasons: it's on my way to work when I take the longer route by bike, it has a pedestrian overpass at its north end that spans the freeway, and the lagoon generally smells awful.  The construction of the highway involved cutting off a mile long lagoon from the waters of the San Francisco Bay.  Though the lagoon still communicates with the Bay through culverts that run under the highway, I don't think that the lagoon sees as much fresh water as could be desired.  Another thing to think about while exploring the park is that the eastern (inland) side of the park is generally accepted as being the natural shoreline while everything to the west, including freeways, the Bay Bridge, the Berkeley Marina, Golden Gate Fields, etc., is built on backfill and converted landfill.  Maybe add those places to the list of area you don't want to be standing when the next big earthquake hits.

I have ridden my bike through the park quite a lot, but I had never taken the time to really explore it.  I used the park, and its paths, as a way to connect points A and B, and anything interesting along the way was largely incidental.  However, the first time I actually stopped and looked around I saw numerous different marine birds, including a pelican feeding in the lagoon, realized that the enormous playground in the park is something that I would have fought long and hard to have at my elementary school (it's so big and tall that some Berkeley parent groups have listed it as "unsafe"...oh yes), and found out that there is some fast and fun, though non-technical, urban mountain biking paths through the brush.  I don't know if there's enough here to warrant a full day of exploring, but it sure is a pretty park on the way to somewhere else.

Getting There By Bike...
I generally approach the park from Emeryville, crossing onto Shellmound St. from 64th and heading north until I reach the gates of the park.  An alternate route, for those approaching from the north, would be to simply take Bancroft until it dead ends at the water.  Voila, you have found Berkeley Aquatic Park.  Traffic in the park is non-existent, though there are all the usual problems associated with multi-use paths; pedestrians, jogging moms, stray dogs, and other cyclists.  Bring a bell and ride politely.  It's also directly across the highway from the Berkeley Marina.  Take a quick spin over the pedestrian bridge and there you are.

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