232-acre East Bay tidal marsh restoration complete

The East Bay is getting a new environmental playground as a project, decades in the making, by completing the last major task to turn it from a pile of bay and creek dredgings into a real tidal marsh. 

As giant backhoes tore into an earthen levee in Martinez, it was a very good Friday to restore a tiny part of the more than 90% of the Bay's historic tidal wetlands, which were lost to human activity.

"It took 20 years to get to this moment; the acquisition of the property, the curation of that and then all the diligence it took to figure out, 'OK, What is the right way forward?' Then the design and then the landscaping that you see all around us," said Linus Eukel. head of the John Muir Trust.

The $24.5 million, 232-acre restoration of Pacheco Marsh in Martinez and Lower Walnut Creek will allow San Francisco Bay waters to once again occupy the space as it did for countless years before America was a nation, and California was California. 

"We are really at the finish line of finally being able to turn this area, that has been diked and drained and filled. Now we are restoring it to vibrant tidal marshlands," said Restoration Project Manager Paul Detjens. "It's a multi benefit project. So, it's got wildlife benefits, flood protection and also restoration. And, on the ecological side we actually call the site the 'doughnut hole' because they're great habitat all around it," said Environmental Science Associates Project Engineer Michelle Orr.

At least ten endangered species of plants and animals are expected to thrive. And, the project makes a small but important stand to mitigate some effects of climate change. 

"So, as sea levels rise the marshes will spread onto the upland area so they'll be sustainable. They can also travel up Walnut Creek," said Orr.

With this project's 2.6 miles of trails and roads, five ponds, and five miles of tidal channels, the wetlands are completed and joined on either side. 

Along its shores and hiking trails, there will also be environmental education experiences for the coming generations. 

"Also, just a refuge place for people that come and visit and to really enjoy the environment of as saltwater march; access to shorelines that doesn't otherwise exist all up and down the river here," said Eukel.

This is the latest return of former tidal marshes including several salt ponds in the South Bay. Twenty years ago, the shoreline was breached so that San Francisco's Crissy Field could have its own recreational marsh.