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Helping restore habitat in the Presidio

  • Jane Scurich
  • My daily commute takes me across the Golden Gate Bridge, making the first right after the toll plaza and traveling along Lincoln Avenue in the Presidio. During the past two years, I have experienced numerous stops and starts as along Lincoln there have been significant changes.

    The once tree-covered slope between the highway and the waterline has been cleared of non-native trees. A pedestrian-friendly walkway has been installed to provide easy access and a magnificent view. Though the work project occasionally interrupted traffic, for me it was an opportunity to experience the transformation.

    I have to admit, I was not well-versed on the design plan or even who was responsible for these dramatic changes. But, thanks to my volunteer work as a Marin Master Gardener, I had an opportunity to learn firsthand about this phase of the Presidio transformation.

    On a recent breezy, fog-shrouded afternoon, I met Alex Hooker, San Francisco Program Manager for the Park Stewardship Program, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. We had shared emails and a brief phone conversation. None of this could have prepared me for the exuberant, passionate parks advocate I encountered.

    A whirlwind of energy, knowledge and focus, Alex led me on a brief tour of the newly opened Golden Gate overlook, a vantage point offering spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the magnificent bay, the Marin Headlands and beyond. On this particular day, the America's Cup trials were under way and we were fortunate to see one of the world's fastest boats making a precision turn under the bridge.

    Alex and a crew of volunteers are working on the Presidio Bluffs habitat restoration. A group of about a dozen volunteers, all regulars on this Thursday afternoon, were hard at work, removing invasive and non-native plants from the recently landscaped hillside.

    Alex shared with me some of the processes involved in revitalized landscape with native plants. Each restoration area is carefully surveyed and native plants are identified. As each area of the Presidio project is planned, an 18-month time frame allows for identifying natives, collecting seed or cuttings, propagating and hardening off plants in preparation of transplanting. Each year, more than 1 million seeds are collected in the Golden Gate National Parks to be propagated in one of the six GGNPC greenhouses for installation in a park site. During the 2012 growing season, some 270,000 plants will be grown for 53 habitat restoration projects throughout the 75,000 acres of parkland.

    Thinking natives are natives, I was surprised to learn that California poppies that grow in the overlook are quite different from those that flourish at Lands End. Identifying and growing local natives involves careful collection, precise record keeping, knowledgeable oversight for proper germination techniques and correct timing for transplanting.

    The mission of the Parks Conservancy is to preserve the Golden Gate National Parks, enhance the park visitor experience and build a community dedicated to conserving the parks for the future. Alex will captivate you with the process of transforming the 1,500-acre former Presidio Army base into a national park. He'll offer behind-the-scenes insight into the native plant restoration projects at Crissy Field, Lands End and numerous ongoing projects in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties.

    I had a one question for Alex that wasn't directly related to the Presidio project, but of particular interest to me. I inquired about the endangered Franciscan manzanita that was discovered during the Doyle Drive reconstruction project in 2010. The mother plant has been relocated within the Presidio and cuttings and seedlings of this manzanita, thought to be extinct in the wild some 70 years ago, are currently being propagated in the GGNPC greenhouses and other locations throughout the Bay Area. I have been fascinated about the amazing discovery of this tenacious manzanita and the herculean efforts to re-establish it in the wild.

    If you would like to learn more about local native plants, collection, propagation or how to get involved and be one of the 30,000 annual volunteers for the Parks Conservancy, join the Marin Master Gardeners at 7 p.m. Oct. 4 in the Livermore Room at the Marin Art and Garden Center. Alex will speak on "Transforming the Presidio: From Army Base to National Park."

    To learn more about the GGNPC, current, past and future projects, and the efforts to conserve rare and endangered plants and wildlife, go to www.parksconservancy.org. To experience this transformation firsthand, just take a drive across the bridge, first right after the toll plaza, park in the Langdon Court parking lot, and take a stroll — I think you'll be impressed.