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A Road Ahead for China Camp

Nov 12, 2019 | Prepared Communities, San Francisco Bay, California, What We Work For

The road to San Franciso’s China Camp State Park. Photos courtesy Aimee Good, unless otherwise noted.

China Camp State Park is a beautiful place in our San Francisco Bay Reserve, treasured by local residents and visitors alike. Getting there, however, can be a problem. Especially when King Tide flooding overtakes North San Pedro Road, which provides park access, a commute corridor, and a back route for emergency vehicles and disaster evacuations. 

With local sea levels projected to rise at least three feet by 2100, the future of the park, its marshes, and its highly valued access road is uncertain. In response, the Reserve convened nearly 40 stakeholders to discuss options to manage and protect the road, the marsh, and the natural and human communities that rely on both of these resources.

“This is not just about transportation,” said Stuart Siegel, the Reserve’s coastal resilience specialist. “China Camp is a marsh of international significance and our actions will have major consequences, whether we do some kind of remediation or simply do nothing.” 

The stakes are high. Not only is the area a favorite recreational resource, it is one of the last places in the San Francisco Bay Estuary where a  tidal marsh sits next to untouched uplands and allows room for future marsh upland migration. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria use the state park for gatherings and rituals, and the marsh itself holds potentially significant archeological resources.

Through a series of workshops over two years, Reserve staff worked with a range of stakeholders, including local residents, regulators, state park and county public works representatives, conservation and recreation groups, and emergency response personnel. The goal was to better understand their priorities and work together on potential solutions. 

As a result, they now have five options for managing the future of North San Pedro Road, while preserving the integrity of the marsh and facilitating recreation. Options include raising the road, re-routing it, or leaving it in place, each of which addresses stakeholder goals in different ways.

“We’re glad that realistic alternatives for a lower cost, limited length causeway over the most frequently flooded parts of the road will be considered in the next phase,” said Gina Hagan and Mark Wallance, from the Santa Venetia Neighborhood Association in a letter. “Keeping the road functional and safe for recreation and emergency use is a high priority for our community and visitors to China Camp State Park.”

Reserve staff also provided science that informed the process. “NERRS science and other background work was so key,” said Aimee Good, the Reserve’s coastal training program coordinator. “Our yearly habitat monitoring data allows us to see a pretty comprehensive picture of changes to the marsh.”

Left: flooding on North San Pedro Road. Image courtesy Marilyn Bagshaw. Right: Sea level rise projections for San Francisco Bay Reserve.

“We know that sea level rise combined with subsidence of the road through China Camp is one of the first of many adaptation challenges our community will face,” added Hagan and Wallace. “What we learn from this project, we will likely apply to other parts of the same road system in the near future.”

This project was funded by the National Estuarine Research Reserve System Science Collaborative, which supports collaborative research that addresses coastal management problems important to reserves and their communities. 

“The benefit of the collaborative science process is that it allows everyone to be involved and have input long before changes are actually made,” says Siegel. “It’s always difficult to try and make everyone happy, but these processes help us get a lot closer to what’s best all around.”

More information about this project, including the resources it generated, is available here.

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