New shoreline camp boosts Bay Water Trail

By Denis Cuff, Contra Costa Times
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It was just a two-hour kayak paddle from San Rafael to Richmond, but it was a big step forward for the San Francisco Bay Water Trail, a network of launching and camping spots for paddlers.

A trio of kayakers paddled five miles across the Bay to Point Pinole Regional Shoreline in Richmond on Monday to become the first visitors to the first new campground for the Bay Water Trail since California lawmakers authorized its creation in 2005.

The East Bay Regional Park District developed the group camp – its first shoreline one – cozily inside the sheltered earth and concrete walls of an old dynamite bunker, where commercial explosives manufacturing ceased in 1959.

“It’s taken a while to get the water trail going, but this camp is just what we need,” Bo Barnes, a veteran paddler, said after landing on a beach at Point Pinole Shoreline. “San Francisco Bay is the biggest wilderness in the Bay Area. We need more water access points to use it.”

While the campground is not scheduled to open officially until an Oct. 24 dedication, the paddlers from Bay Access, a group formed to promote the water trail, visited the campgrounds Monday and stayed nearby, becoming the boat campers in the 2,100-acre shoreline park in northern Richmond.

Paddlers and park officials said the new campground is a prime addition to the Bay Water Trail.

Located near a eucalyptus grove south of the park’s popular fishing pier, the group camp has such basic amenities as water, bathrooms, a fire pit and cooking grill, plus a quiet and scenic setting away from busy roads and freeways on land or the busy shipping lanes on the Bay.

And of course, the campground is near the Bay, an expanse of about 470 square miles of water surrounded by nine counties.

“With all this, who needs Hawaii?” Barnes said.

“You can spend a week vacation paddling around the Bay.”

The group is doing just that, paddling for six days on a trip around the Bay. The trio used compartments in their kayak hulls to carry clothes, sleeping bags and food, including the tortillas that Barnes says will last for two weeks in the damp marine air.

Beginning paddlers should not attempt a trip like this because wind, waves and currents can make travel dangerous, safety experts say, but an experienced kayaker can paddle far and wide – enjoying solitude and wildlife.

Early Monday, the trio of paddlers spotted seals and seagulls churning the water into a boil as they dove in a frenzy to hunt fish. While camping at Angel Island State Park over the weekend, the trio saw a peregrine falcon dive bomb and kill a bird in mid-flight.

“Imagine seeing all that in an area with millions of people,” said Fran Sticha, of Lafayette, one of the paddlers on the trip.

The park district is likely to add other boat campgrounds or launch areas at other shoreline parks so kayakers, canoers and others in small, human-powered watercraft can travel from place to place over several days, said Pat O’Brien, the park district’s general manger.

When and where is yet to be determined, he added.

The state Coastal Conservancy is expected next year to consider a water trail environmental impact report to provide guidance to private and public landowners on where and how to develop boating spots.

“The Bay Water Trail expands the vision of trails,” O’Brien said.

“We associate the trails with lands, but in this case, the trail is already there with the Bay. Our challenge is to provide destinations on the land.”

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