The Rotary Nature Center is now open to the public from 11am to 4pm on Fridays and Saturdays (it may actually be open as early as 10, but am following what I saw on the sign!).
The Center had its first open house — a soft opening — on Saturday, December 10th, and followed that up on the 17th with a Winter Craft Fair.
There are some new displays in the Center, one on the history of the lake, one on pollinators (from Pollinator Posse), one from Golden Gate Audubon on birds, a display on the 2022 red tide and fish kill (Community for Lake Merritt), and a couple on insects (Insect Science Museum of California). With others on Owls to come, and with the start of a plan for the future. Some hands on activities are present, as well as some of the original taxidermy displays (birds around the Lake, a cougar, and some owls).
The inside bathroom was redone as well. The bathrooms have been awaiting improvement for a long time!
This coming year, in 2023, look for events around Earth Day, and in the Fall for an event for the Centers’ 70th anniversary.
Back on this day, March 18th, in 1870, the California State Legislature created the countries first Wildlife Refuge. “An Act to prevent the destruction of fish and game in, upon, and around the waters of Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda.” (the full text is below).
It seems like there are various stories of the origin story, Samuel Merritt worried about his cows, wanting to protect birds and people from hunters guns, or wanting his real estate investments to be free of gun noise. He had purchased land around the lake, donated the lake edge to the city, and was building homes to sell. (source)
The “lake” was created a couple years earlier by Dr. Merritt when it was first dammed, though I think there was still some tidal flow, since then the lake has undergone many changes, and avoided some other horrible fates (a bridge was proposed going across its middle, and I’m sure given half a chance, developers would have filled it in further).
Today, the bond Measure DD, has reversed some of those changes, bringing the lake closer to its original tidal sloughness. The bulk of this work was uncovering two sections of the channel at 10th and 12th streets, the current runs free instead of through small pipes.
There are still flood control gates between 10th street and 880. This flood control consists of a pump station and tidal gates, mainly to prevent floods in heavy rains, particularly where it might also meet a high tide. The only other time the gates are closed are for regattas on the lake.
Measure DD also improved how our storm drains worked to keep out some of the worst trash. But there are still many difficult issues to grapple with — our housing shortage, and the impact that has on our homeless population, and how that impacts our parks, ongoing issues of trash and treatment of our waterways, and how people of all stripes can use the park together.
I am hopeful in that I know a lot of great people are at work grappling with those issues. There are various plans to celebrate the anniversary — due to Covid-19, most of those are pushed off into the future — we hope you will join them.
California Wildlife Act: Eighteenth Session Chapter CCXXIV An Act to prevent the destruction of fish and game in, upon and around the waters of Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda.
Approved March 18, 1870 The People of the State of California, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
Section 1: From and after the passage of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to take, catch, kill, capture, or in any manner destroy, any fish in the waters of Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda, except by the use of a hook and line; but it shall be unlawful to use any set lines, night lines or crawls in said lake.
Section 2: And be it further enacted, that from and after the passage of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to take, kill or destroy, in any manner whatever, the grouse, any species of wild duck, crane, heron, swan, pelican, snip, or any wild animal or game, of any kind or species whatever, upon, in or around Lake Merritt or Peralta, in the County of Alameda, and within one hundred rods from high water mark upon the land around said lake.
Section 3: Any person violating any of the provisions of this Act shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof before any Justice of the Peace of said county, or Police Judge of any city within said county, shall be punished by a fine of not exceeding five hundred dollars, and in default of payment of such fine, shall be imprisoned in the county jail of said county, or within a city prison within said county, not more than six months nor less than one month.
Section 4: The fines collected under this Act shall be paid into the county treasury, in all cases prosecuted before a Justice of the Peace, and into the city treasury in all cases of prosecution before a Police Judge of any city within the county.
Section 5: This Act shall take effect and be in full force on and after its passage.
The city is part way through its process of planning the downtown area for the next 20 years.
The plan is a set of policy guidance and goals, looking at opportunities for development, but also trying to keep an eye on Equity, health living, homelessness, parks, and transportation.
Where it concerns us is how it might impact Lake Merritt… how much of the plan might help maintain our parks, what might be done about the impact of encampments on our parks (for instance, while the Plan does have a goal for moving unsheltered to housing, it does not have a goal for reducing encampments).
It also proposes some large scale changes on either side of the channel — the same place where there was fierce opposition to a new Oakland A’s ballpark. While the housing and mixed use proposed zoning wouldn’t have as much of an impact, the maximum heights would be set at 275′.
If you were at the opening of the Rotary Nature Center you would have found CFLM folks outside of the Center, tabling with various activities about the lake.
We had a second go of this last month, and now are at it again this coming Saturday Oct 5th.
The popup idea is just to have a series of nature related games, info, activities to attract the interest of the public and do some nature interpretation. We hope to do this regularly over time, expanding the number of activities we have, and the number of volunteers who’d be willing to share their knowledge.
The budget fight looked like it was going to be supremely ugly, but the Council buckled down to business and hammered out various drafts, brought amendments, argued some more. The meetings were long and the public continued to voice forceful opinions.
The upshot for our CFLM’s initial concern — parks maintenance positions — was quickly addressed by Council President Kaplan’s counter proposal and never dropped in subsequent amendments.
Not that the positions are in the free and clear. The funding is only guaranteed for the first year. The second will be looked at mid-cycle to see where the budget falls. There is also talk of a ballot measure to fund park maintenance over the long term. Which might pick up the positions where the budget otherwise cannot.
There is a question as to how soon those positions can be filled, they are hopeful for the fall, but it might take a good while longer.
A new lead naturalist, Joe Moore, started at the Rotary Nature Center a few weeks ago (we were sad to see Angelina Manno go). He came from Discovery Center West and has jumped into the issues present at the center.
The bathrooms continue to be a vexing problem (stand around long enough and you’ll likely have someone ask about them). A new problem surfaced with the water ponds for the ducks… and Joe and another new staffer Terrence jumped into figuring out how to get them filled and cleaned with the help and advice.
The bees have also returned to the center — speaking of busy. Joe is intent on bringing some hands on activities and signage to program around them. And OMCA donated a table for a digital display which they will be helping with.
Katie Noonan organized an Adopt a Spot cleanup and about a dozen of us came out to help weed. We are looking at doing these on a more regular basis.
July 27th is the Billion Year walk, from 10am-4pm starting from the Center, which a deep time exploration of the lake and our earth.
Several of us supporters of the Rotary Nature Center (Rotary Nature Center Friends and the Community for Lake Merritt) came to the Oakland City Council special session on budget proposals from the Mayor and City Council President.
There were concerns from many quarters about the Mayor’s budget: from illegal dumping, city workers, homeless advocates, fire safety in the hills, to specific concerns about funding for various non-profits, and it’s lack of faith in priorities laid out by the community at large.
Our specific concern (not to diminish any others — in particular a solution to our homeless crisis is intimately tied to parks) was where parks positions which were to be cut. This has an impact on not only our concerns at Lake Merritt, but Oakland wide — where parks would potentially be closed for lack of staff.
A support letter signed by 220 lake walkers in favor of restoring and improving parks funding was delivered by RNCF to council. They had tabled the last two weekends for this effort.
We believe that access to parks is good for the well being of all Oakland residents and visitors… and that without solid maintenance our investments in parks would be at severe risk, even those that are said to be jewels of Oakland.
We firmly believe that volunteers and the community at large play a role in maintaining our parks through things like Weed Warriors and Adopt a Spot and our own organization, but that this is not enough. We need the involvement and work of our excellent city employees, those of DPW and OPRY&D. We need them for a commitment to sustain our parks. The finance office indicated they are particularly concerned about Park’s funding.
Please write the mayor and your city council member and encourage that these positions not be cut and to work for sustainable parks.
A few years a back, the staff at the Rotary Nature Center produced this excellent little tree guide. The text came from Constance Taylor, Blake Edgar, Paul Belz, and California Center for Natural History. The illustrations are from John Muir Law’s nature illustration club.
Often, the trees we see in cities are from different parts of the world, so they can be hard to identify. This guide will introduce you to 10 of the most common trees you’ll find around Lake Merritt, Oakland, & other urban areas in California. Some of them are native & some of them are introduced, but all are part of our urban ecosystem. A giant thank you is due to John Muir Laws and his nature journaling club for creating all the beautiful illustrations! It’s our hope that this community-created tree guide will help you learn a little more about what else is “growing on” all around us in Oakland. See if you can find all 10 trees outlined. Happy searching, learning, and exploring!
Without further ado, checkout this Lake Merritt Tree Guide and amaze your friends when they ask what the heck is that tree.
For a moment, this past Saturday, Feb 16th, 2019, it looked like it was going to be a miserable day. Volunteers had begun arriving to set up tables at 1130, and shortly after we’d gotten settled it began to pour with rain. We’d already had a good set of people stopping by, many people eager to have a look at the Center.
But the skies cleared, and people started arriving en mass. The Community for Lake Merritt board was out, helping dissect owl pellets, a game for looking at bird feet, looking at insects, and pollinators. Lake Merritt Observatory had an excellent “From the Bottom Up” table with things taken out of the lake, water testing, and someone helping interpret the new Mutual Air Bell (and air quality art project). Golden Gate Audubon was down by the water showing people the birds.
Inside, OPYRD Director Nicholas Williams started off the proceedings by unveiling a plaque in appreciation of the Core Team who have worked for the last year setting plans and policy into place. The group, which is disbanded as of the opening, has included Karis Griffin of OPRYD, Alan Briskin consultant, C.J. Hirschfield of Fairyland, James Robinson of the Lake Merritt Institute and community activist Jennie Girard. He went on to thank other groups who have contributed including Community for Lake Merritt which brought in the substantial donation which paid for the refurbishment, and the partner organizations.
Mayor Libby Schaaf then took the stage to thank everyone and honor Stephanie Benavides for her contributions to the RNC over the last 40 years. She shared her own childhood experiences at the RNC being mentored by Stephanie and shared the Patricia Polacco picture book, I Can Hear the Sun, written about Stephanie. Stephanie was also awarded a plaque to hang in the RNC and while local children held both ends she, together with the new lead naturalist, Angelina Manno, cut the ribbon officially reopening the RNC.
Photos are courtesy of John Kirkmire. More of his excellent photos are at LakeMerritt.org