Published October 21, 2014
Volume 22, Number 10

East Bay Regional Park District Celebrates 80 Years
East Bay Regional Park District

By Zoe Francis

San Francisco’s Golden Gate and New York’s Central parks have nothing on the expansive East Bay Regional Park District.
The district, now celebrating its 80th anniversary, has the honor of being the single largest urban regional park district in the nation.
“We’re the biggest regional park district in the country,” board president Ayn Wieskamp boasted proudly. “And that’s thanks to voters. Unless they pass bond issues, we would not have enough money to buy the land.”
The park district founders most likely did not have a grand plan for expansion when they snatched up a mere 2,166 acres of excess land from the East Bay Municipal Utility District way back in the fall of 1934.
“Nobody had the vision of where it would go,” Wieskamp said. “I suspect they were thinking a lot about different wildlife corridors and trails. As time went by, they began to see the population expanding and saw opportunities to pick up land that would make sense for the long view. People don’t always do that, but there were enough people involved that they did.”
Voters in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, where the parks are located, have routinely supported tax measures to fund land purchases and development. A November ballot issue, Measure BB, includes funding for trail maintenance.
The nation’s largest park district now includes 65 parks spread across 114,000 acres and 31 trails that cover 1,200 miles. The park boasts 25 million visitors each year.
The district has parks as far north as Richmond and all the way to Fremont in the south. Parks run along the San Francisco Bay shoreline on the west and spread east to Antioch and Livermore. Many are connected by trails maintained with help from dedicated volunteers.
While hikers enjoy the more than thousand miles of trails that often connect parks, another reason trails are developed is to maintain essential corridors for wildlife.
“We don’t buy land just because it’s available,” Wieskamp noted. “It has to fit in with what we’re trying to do. We don’t open any land unless we know we can operate it and maintain it safely. That’s what makes our parks a great place to be.”
The district recently extended the popular Iron Horse Regional Trail right through Hacienda. The new trail section closed a 1.8-mile gap from the BART station to Santa Rita Road, providing a smooth route for commute and recreational use.
Park officials are constantly on the lookout for ideal properties, based on the district’s master plan, to develop new parks and expand the trail system.
“Our land department constantly keeps in touch with a number of property owners to see if they’re at a stage where they want to sell,” she said. “That’s what typically happens with ranchers. They know you, so they’ll call when they’re ready to sell.”
Multiple events are planned to celebrate the district’s 80th anniversary, but the most popular celebration has been the free Fridays offered the third Friday of each month when the usual park entrance fees are waived. The free days have lured scads of new visitors to the parks.
“Park staff picked days that typically are not super busy to encourage people to come out and try our parks,” Wieskamp said. “We’ve had success with that.”
The park district will continue its measured expansion of parks and trails to serve city dwellers fortunate enough to have access to the nation’s largest park system.
“People bandy the words around all the time, but it really is all about quality of life,” Wieskamp said. “They really want some open space. They really want to be able to look at the open ridges and trees. They like to know that it’s not going to be developed. People like the fact that we’re saving space for people to visit and animals to survive.”
Learn more about the East Bay Regional Park District at ebparks.org. Visit ebparks.org/activities/80 for a list of anniversary year programs and events.

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