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Discovering the trees, plants of SF’s southern waterfront

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Heron’s Head Park on San Francisco’s southern waterfront is home to the Western snowy plover. (Courtesy Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network)

The Dogpatch was once part of Mexico’s 1844 Potrero Nuevo (“new pasture” in Spanish) land grant to Yerba Buena’s first mayor, Francisco de Haro. But as with all things San Francisco, the start of the Gold Rush would mean big changes for the area. De Haro was soon convinced by his successor in office, Mayor John Townsend, to sell his ranch off as individual lots.

Today’s Bayview and Hunter’s Point neighborhoods also began life as part of a Mexican land grant: the 1839 Potrero Viejo (part of a larger Rancho Rincón de las Salinas y Potrero Viejo grant given to José Cornelio Bernal). Like his northern neighbor, Bernal would also sell his ranch for development. His real estate agents were the Hunter brothers, after whom Hunter’s Point became named.

On Sunday, March 6, join Walk San Francisco for its monthly members walk with Friends of the Urban Forest and walk leader Ellyn Shea, of Garden Guidance — a horticultural educator and Certified Arborist/Tree Risk Assessor. Take a naturalist tour of what has traditionally been viewed as the most industrial part of the City.

After the Gold Rush, these two areas, which were originally called “South San Francisco,” never attracted the rich miners Townsend and the Hunters envisioned. Instead, because early city planning codes banned certain industrial uses near established residential areas, gunpowder manufacturers opened here, followed by slaughterhouses and associated facilities for tanning, wool-making, tallow and fertilizer production. Then came the iron factories and warehouses to support the emerging shipyards, and eventually, the San Francisco Gas Company (PG&E’s predecessor) built its power plant here.

Despite this man-made history of heavy industry, the neighborhoods of Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Bayview and Hunter’s Point are home to not only newly restored shorelines, but also a diverse collection of waterfront parks and open spaces — and even a number of city-designated “Landmark Trees.”

Meet at La Stazione Coffee & Wine Bar, to begin a leisurely, three-mile, two-and-a-half-hour nature walk. Learn about cultivated and wild plants as you navigate by foot through recent developments that sit shoulder to shoulder with long abandoned buildings and sites, reflecting not only the area’s history of World War II boom and post-war bust, but also the current conditions of a frenzied real estate market.

While San Francisco’s southeastern waterfront doesn’t get as many visitors as its more well-known, and tourist-heavy northern counterpart, there’s plenty to see and discover about this quieter, more secluded corner of The City.

Starting at the Dogpatch’s newest public play space, you will head east to visit one of The City’s lesser-known parks. Once lovingly called “Tire Beach” or “Toxic Beach,” Warm Water Cove Park has been reclaimed and renovated (thanks to Prop B bonds). This open space is situated between the towers of the old PG&E plant and abandoned shipyard warehouses, offering anglers and recreational visitors spectacular views of the deep-blue Bay.

Next you will follow the Shoreline route of The City’s ‘green connections’ network. Take this south to Heron’s Head Park to explore its salt marsh. Successfully restored from the foundations of Pier 98, the park offers some of The City’s best bird watching. Hundreds of shorebird and waterfowl species migrate through this wetland, which also serves as home for the Western snowy plover and salt marsh harvest mouse.

Finally, take a short stroll to the Bay Native Nursery to learn how — thanks to the neighborhoods’ warmer, cloud-free coastline — a variety of trees and plants (native and exotic) are able to thrive here.

The walk ends at Flora Grubb, for optional drinks or snacks.

Formed in 1981, Friends of the Urban Forest promotes a larger, healthier urban forest as part of San Francisco’s green infrastructure through community planting, tree care, education and advocacy. For more information, visit fuf.net.

IF YOU GO:

Discovering the Trees and Plants of San Francisco’s Southern Waterfront

When: Sunday, Mar. 6, 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Where: La Stazione Coffee & Wine Bar
Info: Walk space limited; $10 suggested donation; RSVPs required at www.walksf.org/event/discoveringtreesplants