Commentary on Save The Bay's "Creeks to the Bay" Restoration Vision for Eastshore State Park

Save the Bay's Vision document makes some interesting points. There are many areas of agreement, but without the details it is hard to say exactly what Save the Bay is prepared to support and what they are likely to oppose.
"we must strive to balance the park's recreational opportunities with protection and restoration of its natural resources."

This is something that everyone can agree with. But does the rest of the document live up to this basic principle? Let's take a look.

"Rather than creating a conceptual plan that overlays a variety of recreational uses onto the landscape, Save The Bay believes that the underlying historical landscape must shape the plan."

Since the "underlying historical landscape" is water, and since we can't recreate the original shoreline, it is hard to understand exactly what this means. There is artificial land here now, but does the fact that there was a natural shoreline in the not-to-distant past mean that any new activity on this land becomes inappropriate? The logic is tenuous at best.

"Our vision of restored creek-to-bay linkages can be achieved only if recreational activities are not superimposed onto the existing landscape, but are well-integrated with an ecologically focused plan that emphasizes protection and restoration of the shoreline and its creeks."

"Overlay" and "superimpose" have suddenly become bad words, it would seem. And without providing anything specific about why this "vision" can be achieved "only if recreational activities are not superimposed onto the existing landscape," then how can anyone tell what constitutes a "superimposed" recreational use and what qualifies as an "integrated" and "ecologically focused" one?

Most rowers, paddlers, and sailors consider their activities to be about as earth-friendly as recreation ever gets, integrated with the natural environment and focused on ecology. Yet what is written between the lines appears to be opposition to the facilities that would support and encourage these activities - without actually stating a rationale for this opposition.

Even worse, opposition to cooperative boating facilities effectively blocks access to anyone who does not own their own kayak or other watercraft, freezing out most of the local youth who could benefit most from new boating programs along this waterfront. This is a significant missed opportunity for the future of waterfront environmental advocacy in general. If we don't make the Bay attractive to people, Save the Bay loses its constituency. People who float on the Bay have a much higher stake in its future than people who are only allowed to look at it.

"Once this ecological framework is in place, recreational opportunities can be incorporated in a manner that minimizes impacts to plant and wildlife habitat"

Is this the "balance" between recreation and protection that the document purports to advocate? Where is the counterbalancing line, stating that habitat preservation should not completely preclude active recreational uses? Or at the very least, something that expresses a recognition of the value and desirability of recreational facilities as long as they do not interfere with protection and restoration.

The Save the Bay position appears to be that active human recreation is to be tolerated but not encouraged. Plan the park as a nature preserve first, and then see if there's room for people to do anything other than look at the result.

Recreational and environmental components should be planned together if there is to be any pretext of a balance between the two.

The recommendations for specific areas are not unreasonable, with a notable exception:

"Distinction should be made between general recreation uses and recreational opportunities that require shoreline access. For example, unlike playing fields or motorized watercraft, human- and wind-powered watercraft (e.g., kayaks, windsurfers, canoes) require localized shoreline access with appropriate site conditions. Such uses should be accommodated where possible while minimizing impacts to plant and wildlife habitat."

This could represent progress from the Sierra Club's position of last year, especially with respect to the status of the North Sailing Basin. Is it an acknowledgment that the North Sailing Basin is uniquely suited to certain forms of non-motorized water activities, and that these activities can be "accommodated" as long as their impacts are "minimized?" There is not enough specificity to be sure that this is what it really means.

The recommendation also challenges the appropriateness of using waterfront lands for field sports. This is also short-sighted and counterproductive. As a practical matter, the waterfront is the only viable alternative for new playing fields, so the reality is that they need to be on the waterfront as much as the rowers and paddlers.

What is being missed here is the crossover value. Bringing people to the waterfront for some seemingly unrelated outdoor activity helps establish their relationship to the Bay. Those of use who are already devoted to creeks, to shoreline wildlife, and to water-borne activities don't need to be shown where to find value in our Bay. But playing fields on the waterfront bring in people who don't fit any of these categories, and there might be a very positive unintended consequence that speaks directly to the fundamental values and goals of Save the Bay.

Keep the playing fields in the plan.

Save the Bay also opposes playing fields on the grounds that runoff from pesticides and fertilizer might adversely affect the surrounding habitat. This appears to be a red herring. According to playing field advocate Doug Fielding:

"I have been maintaining playing fields for ten years in many different communities. I am not aware of anyone who uses pesticides on playing fields. Most municipal maintenance people don't even use fertalizer."

Beyond these comments, it all depends on the details:

  • Will there be enough parking? If there is no compromise here, then it will be very hard to take Save the Bay's commitment to a "balance" between recreation and protection very seriously.
  • Will there be a place for cooperative organizations supporting entry-level paddling and rowing? This is critical to fulfilling the potential of the waterfront.
  • What about off-leash dogs? The Vision is conspicuously silent on this important issue.
  • Does preserving the Meadow mean absolutely all of the Meadow, or is their room on the perimeter to support water access?

In short, rather than giving us a glimpse of their vision, we have no idea what the Save the Bay people are really thinking. The inescapable conclusion is that it is not really possible to make a meaningful policy statement about the Eastshore State Park without putting pencil to paper and showing some graphical and spatial examples of what might fit the "vision" and what might not.

Does sketching in a soccer field or a boat dock constitute an "overlay?" Perhaps, but at this point in the planning process it is the only substantive way to communicate.