Presidio Parkway Could Revive a Wetland Buried by Asphalt

Doyle Drive after construction, as visualized by Caltrans.

It may look like a forgotten military landscape, decaying beneath an elevated freeway and overgrown with weeds, but hidden beneath the abandoned buildings and broken pavement, Presidio planners see the potential to regenerate a wetland.

Quartermaster Reach is currently so neglected, most people don’t even know it exists. Floating between Lucasfilm’s Letterman complex and the Presidio Post Office, some sections have been abandoned for decades. A disused power plant sits at one end and piles of dirt and construction debris mark the northern edge. Once home to Yelamu Ohlone, Mexican settlers commandeered the area’s flow of fresh water in the 1700s, the military established a shooting range on the site in the 1800s and paving for Doyle Drive had erased the site’s history by the 1930s.

But Doyle Drive may hold the key to the 9.5-acre site’s restoration. Nearing the century-mark, the elevated freeway is currently being replaced with a slightly-lower-impact Presidio Parkway. When construction is complete, the landscape underneath the freeway may transform from asphalt to wetland.

Doyle Drive as it has appeared for the last few years.Doyle Drive as it has appeared for the last few years. The large gray building near the center is currently being demolished.

The key to revitalizing the area is a stream flowing deep beneath the site. Starting at the El Polin Spring, where drinking the water was once said to enhance virility, it flows under Lover’s Lane Bridge before disappearing into decades-old storm drains beneath a bramble. The stream re-emerges briefly in Thompson Reach, before entering a 72-inch culvert that empties into Crissy Marsh.

The site is well-suited for a wetland, with silt and clay comprising most of the native soil. The curve of the roadway will maximize natural light for plants and animals, and with improved tidal exchanges and continuous green space, the wildlife corridor will be significantly expanded, though still interrupted by a massive elevated freeway.

Earlier this summer, the Presidio Trust completed a Quartermaster Reach Environmental Assessment and identified three potential treatments: a minimally-constructed stream, a diverse wetland with a boardwalk trail or a tidal lagoon.

lot.pngThe current state of Quartermaster Reach. Photo: Matt Baume

The wetland is the preferred alternative for simultaneously enhancing habitat, providing public access and recognizing historic features.

A long-forgotten rail line that once
connected the Marina to Fort Mason is a crucial element of the site. Those tracks, a section of which still exists to this
day beneath Mason Street, would be commemorated with historic markers.

Transit enthusiasts may dream of a day when Mason is converted into a rail line, perhaps as an extension of the tracks currently traveled by the F, but there are currently no concrete plans to do so. Earlier this year, Supervisor Alioto-Pier criticized a proposal to extend the F-line to Fort Mason, citing bogus concerns about outreach and funding.

field.pngQuartermaster Reach has been overtaken by invasive ruderal plants. Photo: Matt Baume

In addition to providing a path for wildlife, the restoration would facilitate the creation of a new “Tennessee Hollow Corridor,” originally called for in the Presidio’s Trails and Bikeways Plan. The corridor would connect playgrounds and sports fields at the southern end of the Presidio to Crissy Marsh, providing a continuous path from Lincoln Avenue to Mason Street.

So far, the project has attracted enthusiastic support. When public comment closed on August 1, all letters received were in support, and the Presidio Trust expects to start work quite soon.

preferred.pngThe preferred alternative features a wetland — and, unfortunately, some parking lots. Source: Presidio Trust

“We’ll be responding to the comments shortly,” said Presidio Spokesman Clay Harrell, “and we’ll release the final report as soon as next week, along with the signed finding of No Significant Impact.” Due to the involvement of the National Park Service, Caltrans and the State Historic Preservation Office, complications with inter-agency cooperation could arise, but all agencies are currently working in sync, according to Harrell. He estimated the initial construction on culverts and utilities could begin in as little as a month.

The Presidio Parkway Construction will require a temporary bypass on the site until 2013, so it’ll be a few years before the project is fully implemented. But once it’s finished, Presidio guests and residents — human, plant, and animal — will enjoy one more piece in the jigsaw puzzle that is the restoration of the Presidio.

boardwalk.pngQuartermaster Reach may one day sport a boardwalk similar to the one crossing Crissy Marsh. Photo: Matt Baume
  • I can not wait to see what all of this looks like in 10 years. What a fantastic resource it will be for everyone in the City!

  • The Presidio Parkway FREEWAY project has a budget of ONE BILLION DOLLARS. And out of that entire project, the public gets a tiny speck of wetlands restoration.

    Oh, and also a commemorative plaque marking where a streetcar line might have been built.

    Streetsblog staff isn’t on vacation. They were kidnapped by the highway lobby, brainwashed into writing nonsense.

  • Matt Baume isn’t Streetsblog staff, Drunk Engineer. You know this.

  • There’s plenty of other environmental remediation being done as part of the Parkway project. Obviously any freeway is bad news for the environment, but this one could have been a heck of a lot worse. (And of course, it could have been a lot better, too.)

    Also, it’s worth noting that it’s the Presidio Trust, not the Parkway project, that would pay for Quartermaster Reach rehab.

  • Sam Penrose

    Speaking as someone who uses Doyle 5 days a week to move himself and a toddler from Sausalito to the Presidio:

    – I appreciate the article; thanks Matt!
    – I am really glad the work is being done
    – I really hope the next earthquake waits until the work is done
    – If the earthquake doesn’t wait and comes during rush hour, I assume dozens of people will die on Doyle, possibly including me and my son
    – The buses I rode pre-toddler and that my colleagues ride now rely on Doyle or something like it
    – I really hope major public development projects in SF will focus on increasing density first, and on-peninsula greenspace second

    I have no idea where the “any freeway is bad for the environment” comes from as applied to this case, except insofar as by hindering commuting from Marin to SF you’ll reduce car trips. Which is a fair point I suppose, but waiting for a quake to knock down Doyle and then hope it won’t be rebuilt seems a rough way to go about pursuing that particular goal.

  • You’re right, it’s not quite so simple — there are a lot of factors to take into account when determining whether a highway is “bad” for the environment. I just meant that in a very immediate and very local sense, building concrete structures and laying down tar and bringing in fuel-burning engines is very bad for the closely surrounding area.

  • Sam Penrose

    @mattymatt: the regional effects of a major transportation project, good and bad, generally dwarf the immediate physical impact. “Think global” and all that.

  • Green Fairy

    The original Tennessee Hollow Corridor was actually proposed in the 1994 General Management Plan Amendment that the National Park Service wrote. If it weren’t for the efforts of some dedicated conservationists the Presidio Trust might not have ever implemented the project.

  • Isn’t it funny, the difference a few years makes? These days, everyone I’ve spoken to at the Trust can’t wait to see the corridor completed.

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