In a certain light: Over the course of a day, Palo Alto Baylands is ever-changing


At the Palo Alto Baylands, the sights and sounds that catch one's attention are as likely to come from above as from below.

Quacking ducks flap deliberately across a light-blue sky before landing to nibble on green vegetation. Gulls float more serenely on the air currents, with wings outspread, but just as soon break the silence with a shriek or yell. A murmuring propeller plane flies low to land at the adjacent Palo Alto Airport; any birds in the way dart quickly aside.

The surface, though, isn't without activity. In one of the waterways that meander through the marshlands, ducks shove off from a small cove and spread out like sailboats across the water. Their movements are observed and documented by a man with a camera and tripod. Farther off, in the center of the Baylands, hundreds of birds meet, white dots congregating for some mysterious purpose.

Other winged creatures are only fleetingly visible through brush, such as a brown bird with a thin, dangling beak that flits along one channel. And somewhere, over the miles of marshland, foxes and rabbits lie hidden.

The landscape too has its own character and life, one that changes with the light and wind. The water reflects clouds that are illuminated by the setting sun. The tones of the plant life vary from gray to mud brown to almost burnt orange, and the finger-like branches of an occasional tree or bush sway in the moaning wind. Tiny swells punctuate the surfaces of the wider waterways; their soft lapping produces whispers that can only be heard down by the banks off of the trails well-used by runners and cyclists.

Painted in pastel hues, the bay and the eastern hills beyond are visible through the power lines and towers that gird the marshlands in an unusual embrace. In the distance a feathered flock flies together in tight formation, rising and falling like an undulating sheet, or some serpentine dragon out of ancient lore.

Slowly the pinks and purples have changed to periwinkle and then darker blues. The light over Skyline Ridge begins to dim, and a full color spectrum rises from the jagged edge to the sliver moon above.

A few more planes glide in over the marshlands and touch down in the gathering darkness. Adults and children file back to their automobiles, heading back to a warm meal and their favorite TV shows.

But the birds and the brush and the water remain to await the light's return.

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4 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2015 at 7:40 am

Nice story! Beautiful photography!

18 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 7:41 am

The article neglected to mention that the boardwalk is rotting into the bay while the City spends $4.6 Million redecorating its conference room.

Like this comment
Posted by HB
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 27, 2015 at 9:07 am

What makes it stink worse on some days?

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 9:22 am

This is our forgotten park and is so neglected it is an embarrassment.

We have a boardwalk which was delightful and is now being allowed to rot. We have an interpretive center which could be used for so many things, even a coffee shop along the lines of Ada's at Mitchell Park, which is also being allowed to rot.

We have no signs at the trail head to inform visitors where the trail leads or how long it is or how long it will take to walk. We have no maps for visitors showing the various trails or other information. We have no bathrooms. I have never seen a ranger there.

On many occasions I have been asked by visitors where the bathrooms are, or how long it takes to walk a trail or how to get to the area over by the old landfill. I am always embarrassed to say that there are no bathrooms or other amenities for visitors.

Foothill Park is for Palo Alto residents only and as such people know the park and what is available. The Baylands is open to everyone and yet there are no facilities for them and no way for them to know that.

Foothill Park recently spent money on putting up a flagpole at the interpretive center. Nothing against being patriotic but why? and how much did it cost? Surely some of this money would have been better spent at the Baylands making it a place of which we can be equally proud (and patriotic).

If the Weekly wants to write an article about the Baylands, these are the types of issues that need to be covered. Not a feel good fluff piece.

7 people like this
Posted by Judith Schwartz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:39 am

First of all, what is wrong with a feel good piece in the Weekly? We live in a beautiful place that we should appreciate. Just because there are things to make better in our city doesn't mean we can't value what we have.

For the five years my elderly mother-in-law lived out here with us, she went to the baylands almost every single day, sometimes twice a day, either with us or a caregiver. She loved it and by going there with her during different seasons and times of day, we were reminded what an incredible resource we have so close by. On the anniversary of her death, our tribute to her includes going to baylands for a walk in her honor.

9 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:46 am

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

We live right next to the Bay Trail in East Palo Alto, and I walk every day on the Baylands. Great parkland, and heavily used by bicycle commuters, dog walkers, joggers, and families out for a stroll. One thing that would really help is to bury the PG&E lines which disfigure the landscape. Not sure how this happened, but having industrial power lines running along the shoreline is atrocious.

32 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:47 am

Yes, the Baylands are dreadfully neglected by the city. The potholes are a real problem and dangerous. The above comments are 'right on'. The Baylands are neglected big time while the City spends mega dollars on painting up our street with green and gold directions - making the city look tacky and pouring feel good money into City Hall - also known as Silly Haul. Giving lots of money to the Arts commission and on and on.The Baylands restrooms are a disgrace. The outer Baylands has that area with some sort of piled up concrete slabs that are a 'monument'. Ugly, just ugly.
The Baylands is a prize location. Every other city would treasure it. But not Palo Alto. Maybe it's because most of the city employees do not even live in Palo Alto. They probably care less - if at all. But City Council, YOU live here. Take care of this treasure.

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2015 at 10:54 am

@Resident - I think you did not spend much time in the Baylands if you did not see any restrooms or trail signs. I know there are restrooms near most of the parking lots (duck pond, Byxbee Park, the athletic center behind the airport, and the big parking lot across the street from the closed boardwalk). I have also seen posted maps and direction/distance signs at several locations. You can download and print out your own paper map if you want (look on the city website), though the trails are short and simple enough that just wandering around works for most people.

Yes, it is a shame that the boardwalk and the nature center next to it are closed. I do not know what is there status and hope that someone can write definitively about that. I am guessing that if fixing these was cheap and quick, the city would have done it already.

7 people like this
Posted by EcoCenter
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

We at the Baylands EcoCenter also look forward to the city restoring the boardwalk someday. We would like the community to know that our EcoCenter (in the former Sea Scout building) is open every weekend day 10am-3pm and M/Th/Fr 11am-1:30pm. You'll discover community education programs, nature art gallery, onsite displays. And download our free Apple/Android smartphone app "EV Bay Tour" which offers a self-guided walking tour of the baylands preserve.

7 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:04 pm

City Council: please approve the allocation of funds to do the required work to fix the boardwalk and direct Public Works to get the work done. It's been too long since the "temporary" closure began. The Baylands are treasured by a broad spectrum of Palo Alto residents and the boardwalk is sorely missed. As simple as it sounds, going out to the end of the boardwalk and basking in the peaceful quiet was easily one of the most restorative things one could do in Palo Alto. Save the Boardwalk! Please. Soon.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Wonderful write-up and photos. Definitely the Baylands as I know it.

City website lists Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center winter hours as 1-4 p.m. Wednesdays & Thursdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays. The EcoCenter hours given in a previous comment seem often to depend on the availability of volunteers to staff the place. Both facilities are worth a visit, but don't expect National Park ambiance.

A question for Veronica (or PAPD) -- what part of the Baylands are legally open before 8 a.m.? Or were you risking a citation getting those sunrise photos?

4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2015 at 12:42 pm

>> A murmuring propeller plane flies low to land at the adjacent Palo Alto Airport;

Murmuring? Are you kidding.

The Baylands may change throughout a normal day, but the one constant you cannot
overlook or poeticize away by calling it "murmuring" is the ruinous cacophony of the
constant take-offs, landings and fly-overs, along with the low level helicopter hovering
practice that blasts the whole area with its roar.

It was recently pointed out that there is lead fumes raining down on us from some of
those planes.

Pictures can be cropped and they also do not hint as to the stench from the sewage
treatment plant which often wafts over the Baylands. Surely could be updated to control
its odors if the City really cared.

I have to agree with some of the others that what is needed is some attention to the
Baylands, not feel good pieces, or fancy bridges symbolic of superficiality. The
Baylands is a fantastic resource, but it is also our responsibility to at least conserve it.

If Palo Alto was really "green" we would be doing much more to make the place
pleasant for people and nature. The "Eco-Center" has been there for decades, and
I have not heard or seen any leadership or even much education from it aside from
tours once in a while. In 40 years they rebuilt the Seabees building but let the
Interpretive Center fall into disrepair where crimes take place there are so few people.

The duck pond that I used to visit with my Grandmother decades ago is run down to
the point of looking like a dump.

2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 27, 2015 at 1:16 pm

I was first to post to compliment the story and photos, but now that the problems have been pointed out once again, I will add that I miss the boardwalk and would welcome a bit of improvement to the area. I find Mountain View Shoreline Park a bit artificial for my taste with the phony pond and pedal boats. I guess the city council dreads having to do lengthy environmental studies etc. in order to repair/replace the boardwalk and Lucy Stern Center, but these are sorely needed. I would prefer city staff time and our local taxpayer monies to go to this over a dozen other PA city pet projects, but oh well...
In past I have respectfully asked if a local Silicon Valley figure with environmental interests would consider stepping forward to offer significant funds to get this project going in our local Baylands. Both local and out of area people have enjoyed the PA Baylands and the boardwalk, in particular, was a fun place to take visitors out for a quick look at SF Bay...

13 people like this
Posted by Brad Eggleston
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2015 at 6:17 pm

I am an Assistant Director of Public Works and I manage the City of Palo Alto's Capital Improvement Program. I noticed some of the comments about the Lucy Evans Baylands Interpretive Center and Boardwalk and wanted to provide some information. The City has two projects beginning very soon that will make improvements to the Interpretive Center and will evaluate the Boardwalk. The City has just received proposals from architects to design the renovation of the Interpretive Center that will include replacement of the decking, railing, structural framing members as needed, exterior wood siding, flooring, cabinetry, and doors. The Interpretive Centers exhibits will also be updated. There is $560,000 budgeted for this work, and there will be a community meeting held in the near future to discuss the needs of the Interpretive Center. Separate but very related is a Feasibility Study to evaluate repairing or replacing the Boardwalk. The Request For Proposals for this study is active now, with proposals due in early March. The work done under this study will determine the options for reopening the Boardwalk, as well as the expected costs and environmental impacts of the construction. The Interpretive Center and Boardwalk are located in a very sensitive endangered species salt marsh habitat.

3 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Brad - thank you for your input on this matter. We are happy that the city is committing resources to up date the facilities - that is such a plus for the city. And it is such a plus for the residents who enjoy their parks and natural resources.

3 people like this
Posted by Thoughtful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm

Thoughtful is a registered user.

And what of the airplanes over?

2 people like this
Posted by shani kleinhaus
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 1, 2015 at 9:07 am

Thank you for this lovely story and for focusing on nature and birds and beauty. I went out today, an so the hidden foxes and rabbits, and the birds at sunrise - we are so fortunate living here!

Like this comment
Posted by andrew rich
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Mar 3, 2015 at 10:20 am

andrew rich is a registered user.

...and meanwhile, that weird guy in the freaky breathing mask runs past on the trail again...

(It's me. I'm sorry.)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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