Foothills Park is widely considered one of Palo Alto's most pristine treasures, but the latest addition to the exclusive park has been a magnet for nature lovers.
Since city officials agreed to open a recently annexed portion of the park last November, park rangers have observed about 10 park visitors per day at the 7.7-acre site near Buckeye Creek, according to a new report from Daren Anderson, division manager for open space, parks and golf in the city's Community Services Department.
Visitors typically enjoy a brief walk and often explore the native plant nursery at the site, according to Anderson's report.
The site, which the city has owned since 1981, was rediscovered by the City Council in 2012, when a neighbor, billionaire developer John Arrillaga, offered to buy it. In August 2014, the council approved an ordinance dedicating a 7.7-acre site as parkland, consistent with the wishes of Russell L. Lee, who gave the land to the city as a gift.
Since then, city staff, council members and the Parks and Recreation Commission have been trying to figure out how to enhance the site and make it more attractive to visitors. The latest plan, which the commission will consider Tuesday, calls for enhancing Buckeye Creek, gradually restoring the natural habitat and adding a walking loop, benches and picnic tables at the site.
The new plan, Anderson's report states, "allows for improvement and preservation of habitat for plant, animal, insect and reptile species, as well as the enjoyment and education of park visitors."
The plan calls for achieving these goals in three phases, starting with the restoration of the riparian habitat at the creek site. Some of that work has already begun, according to the report. Grassroots Ecology, a nonprofit that maintains a plant nursery at the site, has been engaging volunteers in removing invasive species and planting native species since 2013. The nonprofit has also been installing willow stakes in Buckeye Creek to help control erosion along the creek banks and create valuable habitat for insects and birds, according to Anderson.
The first phase of the plan includes removing invasive species and eucalyptus trees, spreading creek sediment that is currently piled at the banks of the creek and adding compost and mulch to the area closest to the creek and the nursery. The soil amendment is expected to increase the soil's carbon sequestration and permeability, according to Anderson. This, he wrote, will "increase the likelihood of natural recruitment and survivability of planted native species."
The city also plans to install a loop trail, marked with tree limbs and other natural features, park benches and an interpretive sign during this phase.
Restoration of the habitats would continue in the second phase, with the city planning to gradually remove eucalyptus trees and plant valley oaks. The restoration would occur over eight years and take place in three gradual steps, each focusing on a particular restoration area within the site. Volunteers will be invited to help install oaks, acorns and shrubs throughout the site, in natural groupings, the report states.
The third phase will focus on "creating spaces for the community to comfortably use and learn within the 7.7-acre area," according to the report. This will include installing "aesthetically pleasing planting areas," two additional benches and one picnic table.
Consistent with prior direction from the council and the commission, the plan calls for retaining the Foothills Park as a passive space for enjoying nature. When the city had initially annexed the site, some suggested using it for a dog park or camping grounds.
At the same time, the city is continuing to explore its options for the creek, which has been a subject of a recent study by the engineering firm ENGO.
The firm had recommended creating a new floodplain at the 7.7-acre site to "dissipate peak flows" by lowering portions of the parcel next to the creek. It also recommended building a new channel in an existing meadow to capture some of the creek's flow, minimizing erosion.
The council has not approved the funding to implement the plan, which is expected to cost about $9.5 million, though staff had indicated it will seek grant funding for the creek work.
The Parks and Recreation Commission will discuss the plan at its meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.