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This was my thirteenth bike ride on my quest to travel 350 miles of the S. F. Bay Trail – those miles completed so far of the total of 500 miles planned. I continued north towards Point Richmond along the east side of the Bay, following Map 13.
I have been riding sections of the Bay Trail in order. After a hiatus from rides over the winter to help my Mom with some things, I expected my next ride this summer to be Map 13 starting at Point Isabel, in the City of Richmond. However, the Bay Trail website advised that portions of Map 13 would be closed for trail surface restoration during June and early July, so I rode another section first (see Ride #12).
On a Sunday in mid-July 2022, I revisited riding Map 13. That morning, local news reported that the Marsh wildfire in Pittsburg [see Notes below] had been emitting dense smoke since Friday. The fire had made its way into the peat of the marsh, which is almost impossible for firefighters to extinguish. They often allow the fire to smolder and burn itself out. However, the smoke was affecting air quality for area residents. Firefighters ended up pumping water from the Delta into the marsh to put out the fire: 200 million gallons of water at the rate of 20,000 gallons per minute for 7 days until no hot spots or smoke remained.
I consulted newspaper articles and maps to evaluate where the fire and smoke were and whether I should still go on the ride. The fire was located northeast of San Pablo Bay, past the Carquinez Strait and along Suisun Bay, about 37 miles east of where I was headed, while I would be south of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in the San Francisco Bay. (Although the bodies of water are connected, the names change as one goes north and east.) Westerly winds were predicted from 10 to 20 mph. Since these winds would be blowing east, I thought it might blow the smoke away from where I would be riding. While I felt confident the fire and smoke wouldn’t be an issue — especially in light of the wind blowing away from me — I took a foldable N95 wildfire mask, just in case.
I also wondered how much fog there might be along the Bay Trail that morning and whether I would be able to get some good photographs. The news said the fog would burn off earlier than usual, so I figured I would have clear skies by the time I started the ride. Since fog is part of our local story, I would photograph that, too, if it were there.
I planned to park near Point Isabel to begin my ride. By the time I got there mid-morning, there was not a parking space to be found. I had forgotten that Point Isabel has a dog park. Many dog-walkers had gotten there before me. The area was so parked up that I had to drive 0.2 miles back down Rydin Road, almost to Central Avenue, and got the last parking spot on the street.
This portion of the Bay Trail continues the section I had ridden the previous fall, coming up from Emeryville (see Ride #11). The trail goes north from Point Isabel along Hoffman Marsh and Meeker Slough all the way to Point Richmond. There is a wire fence separating the off-leash dog park on Point Isabel from the Bay Trail that I followed. A breakwater shaped as a right angle can be seen near Point Isabel.
A white one-story warehouse covering several acres on the south border of Point Isabel is occupied by the U.S. Postal Service. This building was originally intended for the Santa Fe Railroad, which built a rail spur in 1968 where the trail is today. The timber trestle bridges from that time are still used to cross various marshes along this portion of the coastline, including Hoffman Marsh. There are many bike paths around the State that have been constructed on old railroad beds. That project is called “Rails to Trails,” and this portion of the S.F. Bay Trail serves both programs.
I have a rear-view mirror attached to the left side of my bike helmet. It’s there for the rare occasions I travel on city streets. However, this section of the Bay Trail is so heavily traveled by bikes that I had to check my mirror constantly to be aware of bikers passing from the rear. For some reason having to do with physics, one can’t hear a bike coming from behind. While some riders ring a bell or call out when they pass (as they should), many others do not.
The interpretive signs along this section recognize the founders of the Save San Francisco Bay Association — Kay Kerr, Esther Gulick and Sylvia McLaughlin – who with dismay watched Point Isabel being bull-dozed in 1959 with the harbor being filled in, and whose subsequent work led to the formation of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission which now regulates land uses of all Bay Area wetlands.
It is believed that the Huchiun Ohlone (one of perhaps 50 indigenous tribes living in the Bay Area) settled in this area as early as 2500 B.C. Elk, antelope, grizzly bears, and millions of migrating birds lived in this area. The Ohlone made boats out of tule reeds which grew in profusion around the Bay.
By 1770, Spanish explorers had discovered the Bay. In 1823, California was transferred from Spanish to Mexican rule after Mexico’s revolt from Spain. 18,000 acres of the East Bay were given to Don Francisco Maria Castro. In 1834, Victor Castro inherited the land and named Point Isabel after his wife.
In 1917, work began to dike and dredge surrounding marshes and tidelands for shipping purposes. By 1921, explosives manufacturers began to use the land on Point Isabel. (Once again, the presence of this type of industry appears as I ride along the Bay.) Richmond experienced huge expansion beginning in 1941 to support ship-building during WW II. In 1942 the Army set up camp on the grounds of nearby Golden Gate Fields (a horse-racing venue) and a shooting range on Point Isabel. Then, in 1945 as the war ended, the Richmond shipyards closed.
Between 1951 and 1959, Santa Fe Railroad removed and leveled half of a wooded hill on the Point, creating landfill around it to build the railroad spur. Between 1961 and 1968, community concerns around conservation grew. In 1972, instead of the area being used for the rail spur, the U.S. Postal Service moved in.
The Point Isabel Regional Shoreline was established in 1975. In 1992, the East Bay Regional Park District purchased Point Isabel and the lands reaching up to Miller/Knox Trail near Point Richmond for permanent public use.
All along this shoreline one can see San Francisco icons across the Bay: The Golden Gate Bridge (1.8 miles long, built in 1937), a gleaming vision when not enveloped in fog; Brooks Island (with a three-mile regional shoreline open to the public by reservation only); and Mount Tamalpais towering over all — 2,751 feet high. Further up the coastline, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge comes into view. Melted snow and rain water from the Sierras flow into the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which merge in the Delta and flow into the San Pablo and San Francisco Bays. Half of California’s rainfall ends up here.
California brown pelicans were present in numbers all along the shore. Many groups flew overhead. I discovered they have interesting white stripes on the underside of their wings, a surprise since they appear to be pure brown when floating in the water.
Continuing north along the Bay Trail, I wound in and around shoreline residential areas, through Shimada Park, Jay & Barbara Vincent Park, and Marina Bay Park. These three parks sit on a peninsula that borders Marina Bay on its southwest edge.
The shoreline around Marina Bay, the Rosie the Riveter historic park, and the Kaiser shipyards further north at Point Richmond became the target of Pacific Coast Oil in 1901. Point Richmond is a neighborhood of the City of Richmond, referred to by locals as “The Point.” The Santa Fe Channel, on the east border of the Point Richmond peninsula, was dredged and 210 acres of landfill were added to the area. The Standard Oil Refinery still uses some of this land today.
In 1948, only 67 feet of Richmond’s 32 miles of shoreline were open to the public. Conservationist Lucretia Edwards began working with the League of Women Voters over the next 50 years to do what was necessary to restore public access to more and more of the shoreline.
Interpretive signs along the Marina Bay waterfront, sponsored by the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park, tell a story of injustice in this area that I was not aware of. For instance, I didn’t know that Lucky food stores once refused to hire black employees or that segregation was rampant among shipyard workers. Jim-Crow-style separation was prevalent in churches, movie houses, and union membership. The NAACP opened an office in Richmond in 1944.
Rounding Marina Bay, continuing north, one passes through Lucretia Edwards Park before approaching the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center. Just before the Center is a “Wall of Honor” on the left — an historic installation hanging along a cyclone fence, launched in 2022, of over 25 portraits of women home front workers who supported the World War II effort. The women honored here include aircraft engine mechanics, riveters, metal workers, assembly workers, and supervisors. More names and photos are added to the Wall of Honor as new information becomes available.
I saw several signs posted on this section of the Bay Trail with the welcome message, “Be Kind, Say Hello, Ride Slow.” Covid-19 signs placed the time frame of my ride. On local streets were gas prices as high as $6.39/gallon for regular and $6.69 for premium, which I hoped would quickly become a distant memory. (Follow-up note: By late August, premium gas prices had dropped once again below $5.99/gallon.)
I think the streets that link portions of the Bay Trail should be called “Bay Trail connectors” rather than considered portions of the actual Bay Trail. While the street connections may be useful, they do not follow the shoreline and are sometimes less than attractive, often bordered by clumps of weeds. Just beyond the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center, I turned right (east) onto Harbour Way South, left onto Hoffman, left at the Burger King onto Cutting Boulevard until I reached Garrard Boulevard. Here a Bay Trail sign guided me a block west through the Richmond municipal tunnel towards Ferry Point, passing Richmond’s historic swim center. The Natatorium, known affectionately as The Plunge, was built in 1926 and recently reopened after seismic retrofitting. My Mom has gone swimming there.
The municipal tunnel was built in 1915 next to a railroad tunnel that had been constructed in 1900. There is a narrow pedestrian/bike lane on the north side of the tunnel, dark for a time until one reaches the light shining through the other end.
Once through the municipal tunnel, one comes to Keller Beach (warning: no lifeguards on duty) and Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline. From Keller Beach, across the water I could see the tips of one of the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, peeking up out of a thick layer of fog that had hidden the bridge all day. Not long after, the bridge disappeared back into the fog again, a beam of dense white mist extending across the Bay like a long log.
The trail continues along the shoreline from Keller Beach to the remains of the old Ferry Point. After a while, the trail becomes rocky and narrow, sloping down towards the Bay water. I moved slightly inland and rode down the middle of abandoned railroad tracks until I reached Ferry Point. The tracks run up to the water’s edge.
In 1900, trains from Chicago began arriving at Ferry Point. Fourteen to sixteen rail cars at a time were then loaded onto freight barges 250 feet long. Tugboats guided the barges of rail cars to the next portion of their journey. Between 1900 and 1933, the ferry boat San Pablo carried passengers and autos between Ferry Point and San Francisco. Its coal-fired engine drove two 16-foot paddlewheels. Little remains of Ferry Point except decaying wood and a short fishing bridge frequented by locals.
The Bay Trail takes on the name Ferry Point Loop as it winds southeast along Brickyard Cove Road to Point Potrero and Kaiser Shipyard 3, home of the retired USS Red Oak Victory Ship. The cargo ship was used during WW II, one of 747 ships built at the Richmond Kaiser Shipyards during that time. She has been preserved as a museum ship at Kaiser Shipyard 3 as part of the Rosie the Riveter National Park and is one of few merchant marine ships to become part of the U.S. Navy.
Richmond had four shipyards during WW II run by Permanente Metals (a major producer of magnesium used in incendiary bombs) and the Kaiser Shipyards. Henry Kaiser had been building cargo ships since the late 1930’s. More ships were built here than at any other shipyard in the U.S., as many as 3 ships per day. The ship assembly system ran 24 hours a day. One quarter of the workers at Shipyard 3 were women. On-site food service, child care and health care were provided to keep production going around the clock.
At Shipyard 3, Rosie the Riveters were called Wendy the Welders. Some of these women sat in the turret of something called the Whirley crane, operating its controls. The Whirley crane was a revolving boxcar sitting on massive legs, standing almost ten stories tall. The crane could turn a complete 360 degrees. Its 100-foot boom lifted and moved massive sheets of iron used to build the Liberty and Victory cargo ships.
Over 90,000 workers relocated to this area to work at the shipyards, many of whom were women and people of color. In three years, Richmond grew from a population of 20,000 to 100,000.
USS Red Oak Victory Ship is docked at the end of this portion of the Bay Trail before the trail makes a loop back the way I came. Returning west along the trail, I stopped along Brickyard Cove for a late lunch and watched a tugboat follow a barge out into the bay, then return to sail back and forth alone. An information sign lists waterfowl that frequent this area: pied-billed grebes, buffleheads, western grebes, scaups, ruddy ducks, double-breasted cormorants, and surf scoters. Fun fact: the ruddy duck’s bill turns blue during mating season.
A strong, steady onshore breeze [see Notes] kept me cool all day but just warm enough so I didn’t need an overshirt. The following day there was no wind – it would probably have been too warm to ride.
I had some difficulty locating the portion of the Shipyard 3 Bay Trail that winds north closest to Harbor Channel and then becomes Canal Boulevard. I didn’t want to get on Seacliff Drive, which follows the higher contours of the local hills. I always prefer to ride as close to the water as possible. Canal Boulevard stops at Cutting Boulevard, where I turned right and headed back the way I came.
On these shoreline rides, the wind always seems to pick up after 1:30 or 2 p.m. Riding home into the strong, cool breeze, I realized I had forgotten about the Marsh Fire and its potential impact, having encountered no smoke anywhere along the ride.
It’s remarkable to see how many funding and sponsor organizations and contributing partners have made these trails a reality [see Notes below].
On this day, I rode 21.31 miles. Have I talked about “return miles” yet – those miles I ride back to my car that are not “net new” Bay Trail miles? I rode 10.28 return miles, so 11.03 net new Bay Trail miles. My odometer had now reached 212 miles.
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“Onshore Breeze”: A “wind that blows from a large body of water toward or onto a landmass”.
Marsh Wildfire: The day of this ride, the morning TV news reported they were letting a fire smolder in a flood marsh outside of Pittsburg in east Contra Costa County (some 35 miles east of where I was riding) because there were no buildings nearby. “Usually flames near the marsh burn themselves out when they get close to water in the delta. . . . Gusty winds picked up sparks and spread the fire to palm trees that line the marsh . . . throwing up dense smoke that could be seen for miles” when the fire began “burning in some peat.”
In the week that followed, about 7/19/22, the San Jose Mercury News (the “Merc”) reported that, because the “ground in the marshland was too soft and porous for firefighters to drive on,” five water pumps were being used to pump 37 million gallons of water from the Delta and Mallard Slough into the marsh to snuff out the persistent fire which had burning in the peat for almost two months, causing air quality issues for area residents. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was on site to advise firefighters regarding how to avoid impacting protected species such as the endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse.
A follow-up news article on 7/23/22 is here: The East County Today article includes the fire’s timeline and announced that, after 7 days, the marsh flooding had ended: 200 million gallons of water had been poured into the marsh at the rate of 20,000 gallons per minute. No hot spots or smoke remained.
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Information Sources: Bay Trail interpretive signs; Google searches; Wikipedia; KTVU Fox 2 News; San Jose Mercury News; East County Today.
Funding and sponsor organizations and contributing partners:
Point Isabel and Miller/Knox Trail (part of the San Francisco Bay Trail): San Francisco Bay Trail, Point Isabel to Miller/Knox trail; California State Senator Dan Boatwright; Department of the Army, Corps of Engineers; United States Department of Fish and Wildlife; State of California Resources Agency; State of California Department of Parks and Recreation; State of California Department of Transportation; San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; East Bay Municipal Utility District; City of Richmond; Point Isabel Dog Owners Association; Zeneca, Incorporated; East Bay Regional Park District
Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park: City of Richmond; National Park Service
Ferry Point Loop Trail: Association of Bay Area Governments Bay Trail Project; Auto Warehousing Company; Brickyard Landing Owners’ Association; California Coastal Conservancy; California Resources Agency; Caltrans; City of Richmond; Cove Investments; Cox Enterprises; Eagle Rock Aggregates; East Bay Regional Park District; Trails and Conservation Assistance Program of the National Park Service; Point Richmond Gateway Foundation; San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; Toll Brothers; Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC)
Shipyard 3 Bay Trail: Association of Bay Area Governments Bay Trail Project; Auto Warehousing Company; California Coastal Conservancy; California Resources Agency; Caltrans; City and Port of Richmond; Eagle Rock Aggregates; National Park Service; San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC)
Wildlife Information: California Coastal Conservancy; California Department of Fish and Game; Ducks Unlimited; North American Wetlands Conservation Council (NAWCC)