Scratched out of a bustling industrial center and surrounded by the Oakland International Airport, the Oakland Coliseum and a major freeway, the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline offers city dwellers a quiet place to hike, bike, bird-watch, picnic and fish. Managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, this 741-acre shoreline park is the remainder of the once-vast marshlands of San Leandro Bay.
In 1998, the completion of a restoration project returned tides to 71 acres of San Leandro Bay wetlands that had been filled in during the ’80s. The restored tidal flow brought back native plants and many bird species – both migrating birds and others that live at the marshes all year.
The park offers a number of short paved trails (about 2 miles) and an observation tower. Both the trails and the tower are wheelchair accessible.
Garretson Point Trail
From the parking lot, pick up a brochure near the observation tower. The brochure provides detailed trail maps and information about the park. Then walk up the steps to the tower, look out at the shorebirds and get your bearings. Nearby information signs update you on tidal restoration.
After leaving the platform, head over a little bridge (water to your left) and then over a larger bridge that spans San Leandro Creek. At this point, you can take a 1.8-mile loop walk around the creek on the San Leandro Creek Trail or continue straight ahead, crossing another bridge to join the Garretson Point Trail (named for Fred Garretson, an Oakland Tribune writer whose stories encouraged bay restoration).
With San Leandro Bay to your left, bustling businesses to your right and airplanes flying overhead, you will experience a fascinating juxtaposition of nature and industry. There are ample benches and picnic tables throughout, some with barbecue pits. Another bridge crosses Damon Creek. Here, on a bench by the water, you can observe the Damon Marsh wildlife sanctuary and some lovely stone sculptures of local sea life. Then you can continue on the Damon Marsh Trail or return to explore Arrowhead Marsh.
Arrowhead Marsh Trail
From the observation platform, pick up the Arrowhead Marsh Trail (water on your right). A boardwalk extending from the trail lets you walk right out over the 50-acre marsh, which is a stopover on the Pacific flyway and a prime viewing area for bird-watching. On the left side of the trail is a gigantic grassy playing field, well populated by ground squirrels and ubiquitous Canada geese. Also in the field is Roger Berry’s steel sculpture “Duplex Cone,” which traces the winter and summer solstices along its two cones.
As you walk along the shoreline, you will see a plethora of shorebirds – willets, marbled godwits, egrets, herons, stilts and turnstones. Once past the playing field, cross over to the road on your left. (This is the road you came in on if you drove.) Look across at New Marsh on the other side, and if you are lucky, you will see a burrowing owl popping out of a hole. Please be sure not to disturb this endangered bird.
Continue on the trail, passing a parking lot and picnic area, until the trail ends at a fishing dock. No fishing license is required to fish from the dock. However, a California fishing license is required for those 16 and older when casting from the shore or in open water.
By bus, from the Coliseum/Oakland BART Station, catch the AC Transit No. 98. Take this to Hassler Way and Edgewater Drive. From there walk south on the path to the Garretson Point Trail.
By car, take Interstate 880 in Oakland, exiting at Hegenberger Road. Drive west on Hegenberger to Doolittle Drive, turn right and then right again at Swan Way. Immediately turn left into the park and drive to the last parking lot.
Photo: Damon Slough via Flickr