April 7th Community Meeting

The April 7th community meeting brought together about 3 dozen people to meet with Oakland Parks, Recreation & Youth Development about the opening of the Rotary Nature Center and what that could look like. This was led by Alan Briskin, a facilitator hired by the city, Karis Griffin — the representative of OPRYD — and the RNC reopening committee, C.J. Hirschfield of Fairyland, James Robinson of Lake Merritt Institute, and Jennie Gerard of Weed Warriors. Nicholas Williams the director of OPRYD was unfortunately unable to come because of illness.

The agenda was as follows:

  • Introduction and Orientation by Alan Briskin
  • A few minutes talking to someone we didn’t know at the meeting
  • (The longest session) Initial framework, priorities, and big questions
    • These were items (retyped below – under creating a shared vision) that the committee brought, read to us, and were discussed by us
    • There was a lot of discussion around these items, in particular budget, and what is currently present at the center, the possibilities of reaching out beyond the walls of the center and engaging with younger people, kids, and their parents, and schools being an important piece of that.
  • Small team breakouts
    • Talking about who we are our vision, and concerns
  • Expectations for proposal submissions
  • Closing hand shaking ceremony

Attendees included: Community for Lake Merritt, LMI, Pollinator Posse, Insect Sciences Museum of CA, Wholly H20, Golden Gate Audubon, Fairyland, Rotary Club, Alameda Beekeepers, Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, Weed Warriors, Oakland Walking Tours, Feather River Camp, OPRYD, Public Works, OMCA, the OMCA Green Team, and a number of interested neighbors (and probably some others I missed)

Outcome – Program Proposals due 4/30/18

I’ve typed up details about the proposals and priorities, proposals are due April 30th, 2018 and should follow the RNC Template.

This is not a competition – OPRYD seeks to reinforce the value of cooperation and services as a means to achieve a greater good.

Some unknowns/Follow up

Karis Griffin said she would provide some insight on the following:

  • What budget exists for staffing and maintenance. There is no budget for programs, but the City has indicated there will be a naturalist on staff.
  • The current state of the Rotary Nature Center and its contents, particularly the taxidermy.

Meeting Documents

(The below statements and questions are retyped from handouts provided on the day of the meeting. They provided the guidance for the conversations we had through the morning)

Creating a shared vision for the Rotary Nature Center

Beauty * Wonder * A Jewel * Attractor * Incubator * Hub * Portal

“When a group is clear about a shared vision, an almost magnetic field develops that draws people in” — a comment shared during the core meeting.

An initial vision for a shared vision

  • We have the opportunity to re-connect the Rotary Nature Center to people, organizations, and agencies throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
  • We can be a learning center, information center, and hub for programs and activities that reach out to
    • Youth
    • Adults
    • Seniors
  • Our potential lies in how we reach beyond the Rotary Nature Center’s walls.
  • We should have the mindset of “connecting the dots:” being inclusive, always learning and evolving.

Initial priorities & opportunities

  • Developing programs and activities that reach out to all ages (youth, adults, seniors) and all areas of Oakland.
  • Developing synergies among various individuals, agencies, and institutions that serve Lake Merritt and the Rotary Nature Center (there is a treasure house of people, volunteers, institutions, community groups, funding agencies. etc, that can contribute to our success).
  • To become a symbol and attractor for what it means to become a good environmental citizen.
  • To become stewards & educators of Lake Merritt, the Wildlife Refuge, and the Pacific Flyway, a natural portal into the wonders of nature, wildlife, and science.
  • To be constructive partners with agencies supporting the health & vitality of Lake Merritt and advocates for the beauty, value, utility, and wonders of water & wildlife.
  • A resource to nurture STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) for all ages and demographic groups.
  • A hub for encouraging the relationships of art, music, and creativity alongside nature wildlife, and the outdoors.

Big Questions to Guide the Journey

  • How can the lake itself be a center for learning and education?
  • What are exceptional practices for exhibits, outreach, and nature education in the Bay Area and beyond.
  • How can we increasingly coordinate and communicate among all the agencies and community partners that are for and make use of Lake Merritt
  • How do we best connect and partner with universities, museums, schools, and other nature centers?
  • How do we ensure that we develop programs that reach our to all parts of Oakland and beyond?
  • How do we establish ourselves as an access point for children (and their families) to the joys and wonder of wildlife and nature?
  • How can we best showcase the beauty, science, and value of water, wildlife, birds, bugs, bees, etc?
  • What kinds of permanent or temporary exhibits might best enhance our mission of being a center that is welcoming, accessible, and educational?
  • How can we be a partner and incubator for funding worthwhile programs and initiatives?
  • What kind of field trips, curriculum, art, and science can we promote through the nature center?
  • What kinds of revenue generating initiatives are possible?
  • How can we keep learning and evolving as a nature center?

Things to keep in mind

  • There is currently no dedicated funding for programming. We believe it is possible to invite individuals, volunteers, and organizations to sponsor programs based on cost recovery, voluntary service, and creative funding initiatives.
  • We are fortunate to have an incredible network of people, organizations, and agencies committed to nature, conservation, wildlife, and the beauty and wonder of our environment. Let’s use these resources wisely and in the spirit of cooperation and respect.
  • Initial decisions on programming will be inspired by community input and vetted by the core team in consultation with relevant parties.

Key Cautions

  • We are respectful but not rigidly wed to what has been done in the past.
  • We remain vigilant that the variety of our programs and the geographical reach of our programs extend out to the diverse populations and all areas of Oakland.
  • We do not “overprogram” within the center itself — leaving open space and time for leisure, spontaneity, and emergence.
  • We respect that everyone is beyond busy — we must cultivate the quality of relationships and strategies that motivate us to stay connected and committed.

Facilitator being engaged

The past couple weeks, the Oakland Parks, Recreation, and Youth Development Department (OPRYD) has been working to hire and contract with a facilitator to lead the process for the renewed Rotary Nature Center. An individual has been selected.
I don’t have the name of the individual on hand. Today’s update from OPYRD said: “little to report this week… still in the process of finalizing our contract with a facilitator.” They are also (in conjunction with some of our allies) “planning to visit a few nature sites in the area.”
 
This was a suggestion that came out of a meeting organized this past week at the Lake Chalet. The meeting was an ad hoc one meant to keep people talking and thinking on our hopes and dreams for the center. We were happy to have a couple representatives from the city attend, from OPRYD and Councilmember MacElhaney’s office.
Here’s the full update if you care to read:

A Center Piece of Lake Merritt

A follow up from the Jan 24th meeting, Karis Griffin from Oakland Parks, Recreation, and Youth Development details how they are currently moving forward. They are selecting someone to facilitate the process with a goal “to create a new Rotary Nature Center that is the center piece of Lake Merritt, the nature-oriented learning institution it was destined to be.”

The Channel

The Lake Merritt channel is not pristine land. it has over the years been subject to all sorts of development, and (as the picture at top shows) downright defilement.

Today, as of 2017, we are closer to its natural state then we have been for over 150 years. The end of the channel, near where the stadium is to be built is perhaps closest still to this picture of development and defilement. 880 runs overhead. A defunct poorly fenced bridge underneath that littered with trash. Train tracks further on run mere feet from the tide. A large pipeline crosses it, next to the tracks and the new Embarcadero bridge construction is beyond that.  Further towards the lake, a tide gate and pumping station sits underneath where East 8th meets 7th. BART runs somewhere beneath.

You might notice the garbage collecting on tide gate grills. Or the homeless regulars. If you’re up earlier you’ll find people doing Taichi or Qigong excercises. Parks and Peralta maintenance people buzz by. Cop cars sometimes congregate under 880. Fisherman stand patiently on the banks casting for Striped Bass. Gardners work the in the Laney community garden.

You might notice the birds. Gulls dropping shells on the pedestrian bridge by Peralta, a squad of cormorants working the channel, egrets stalking the sides. If you go there often, you might notice that their numbers change fluctuate, species come and go. A kingfisher chitters by; an osprey snags a branch for its nest; a raven bullies a hawk, crows bully the raven, a Mountain Bluebird peers out of a nesting box, a ground squirrel pops up from below, Buffleheads bob and weave, Coots squeak, Canada Geese lead their goslings, Goldeneyes dive.

If your lucky, you might peer into the water and see a bat ray grace its way through the water, or see a halibut darts by, or fins a school of anchovies wave back and forth at the tide gate, a snowy egret perching on the tide gate waiting to snag the unlucky.

In the winder birds dot the channel from its opening to the lake. It is the tide that carries them, and everything underneath them back and forth from Bay to Lake, Lake to Bay. I overhear people all the time around the lake wondering about the channel, surprised that our lake is not a lake, making fun of the lake birds for being plastic eating birds, or enjoying explaining that our lake is not a lake.

People peer over the bridges, stop to look. Or don’t, they keep talking to their friends, they keep running, walking, talking. The city has spent nearly $200 million dollars, in part, to make it a place that people want to come and spend time by it.

Freedom to Roam!

2017 - 1 (1)At long last, the 10th street bridge and pedestrian paths underneath are complete. It has been quite some time in the making. The bridge opened to traffic earlier in the year, but the paths opened sometime in early to mid October. It was a nice feeling to be able to bike nearly alway down the channel without crossing a road.

There’s already been a bunch of tagging, but we can hope that the city is maybe planning for a mural or two along those walls. I’m sure Laney college has enough talent to share.

Rotary Nature Center: Opening This Fall (2018)

Updated – Jan 1st, 2019: the Center will have a grand opening Saturday February 16, 2019.

If you’ve been by the Rotary Nature Center in the last year, you will have noticed that the Center has been closed. The building is undergoing inspection and assessment, and a planning process to reopen it. Animals and the bees have been relocated from the building.

Good News: The Oakland Parks, Recreation, & Youth Development department is accepting program proposals for a reopened Rotary Nature Center. The city held a series of meeting with the community this spring and summer of 2018. This meeting was led by facilitator Alan Briskin along with a small committee including CJ Hirschfield of Fairyland, Jennie Gerard of Weed Warriors, and James Robinson of LMI.

11 proposals were submitted before the last meeting, and 5 were discussed at the meeting (and a 6th was accepted as well). The proposals were great and we look forward to helping to see them fulfilled. Karis Griffin said that the center would open sometime this summer.

Recent news (mid July) from the core committee tells us that the opening is now in the fall.

You can dig into the proposals here.

In the meantime, the Oakland Capital Improvement Program is an additional place we might be able to get funds. They are holding meetings in June to gather feedback on their process and priorities.

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