Palo Alto Baylands - Matadero Creek to Byxbee Park

Byxbee Park Pole Field
Access Information
Matadero Creek to Byxbee Park
Byxbee Park

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Byxbee park is named in honor of John Fletcher Byxbee Jr. (1878-1947). A Palo Alto High School and Stanford graduate, Byxbee served as Palo Alto's City Engineer from 1906 to 1941. He later served on the Planning Commission until his death in 1947. He was responsible for the development of the Palo Baylands as a recreation area, which he originally proposed in1921. In 1930, he submitted a plan for the area. The airport, duck pond (originally planned as a swimming pool), golf course, and the yacht harbor (now a marsh) were part of those plans. The official name for the Baylands is actually the John Fletcher Byxbee Recreation Area, named in 1968 to honor John Byxbee. However, today his name primarily appears on the park on the southeast corner of the yacht harbor basin.

The park site was once a landfill, like the still-active landfill adjacent to it. In 1980, the master plan for Byxbee Park was adopted. There are many retired landfills around the Bay that have been turned into parks, but Byxbee Park is unique. It is not a traditional park. There are no playing fields, irrigated lawns, picnic grounds, or playgrounds. It is more like an outdoor sculpture garden. It is unique in the way it incorporates art into the park design. It balances the needs of capping and reclaiming a landfill with artistic expression. Its original intent was to create "a work of art which would enhance the beauty of the site and express the dichotomy of the man-made and the natural elements within and surrounding the park."

In 1988, the Palo Alto Public Arts Commission started a national search to select an artist and landscape architect to design a public park from a converted landfill. The chosen design team consisted of artists Peter Richards and Michael Oppenheimer and Hargreaves Landscape Architects and Planners. George Hargreaves, who is a graduate of and a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, and his firm have transformed sites into works of art around the world. Locally, their designs include the Candlestick Point Cultural Park, San Jose's Guadalupe River Park and Plaza Park, and San Francisco's Crissy Field restoration. Though like most works of art, there has been controversy over some of Byxbee Park's artistic features, the park was recognized with an Honor Award for excellence from the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1993 and an Outstanding Achievement, City Livability Award, from the US Conference of Mayors in 1994.

The hills consist of up to 60 feet of garbage covered by a one-foot thick impenetrable layer of clay, covered by two feet of topsoil. The project site consists of 150 acres. The first phase was completed in September 1991 at a cost of $1.4 million and covers 30 acres. The rest of the project is scheduled for completion in 2003. The currently-active landfill will be closed and added to the park.

The hills are covered with natural grasses which turn a lush green in the rainy season. Wildflowers bloom in the spring. Paths covered with crushed oyster shells wind through the rolling hills. Small shrubs are planted in hedgerows, but there are no tall trees, since their roots would penetrate the clay cap over the buried refuse. Numerous small hillocks are arrayed on the top of the hills. Manmade artistic features are scattered throughout the park. Some of the features of the park are shown below.

Along the southeast side of Byxbee Park is Mayfield Slough. Matadero Creek flows into Mayfield Slough. A gravel trail runs along Mayfield Slough and Matadero Creek. It eventually ends at the paved Bay Trail. The wetlands area northwest of Matadero Creek includes the 15-acre Emily Renzel Marsh, which is part of the Palo Alto Marsh Enchancement Project. Reclaimed wastewater is pumped into the marsh, which then drains into Matadero Creek. Saltwater from the south arm of the former yacht harbor is pumped into northwest portion of the wetlands next to the landfill, creating a saltwater marsh. This saltwater then flows into the marshes surrounding Matadero Creek.

Access Information

Byxbee Park can be reached along the Baylands tour. To reach Byxbee Park directly, take the Embarcadero Road off-ramp from Hwy 101. Take Embarcadero Road northeast towards the Bay. At the T-intersection past the airport, turn right. Just before the entrance to the Palo Alto Recycling Center, turn left into the parking lot of the park.

The park can also be reached by foot or bicycle along Matadero Creek. There is a small parking lot on East Bayshore Road by the flood control basin. From there, take the paved Bay Trail west past the Palo Alto Municipal Services Center and turn right just after the bridge over Matadero Creek. There is also limited parking before the gate on the north side of Matadero Creek. Go through the gate and follow the trail along the creek to the park. The tour below will begin from this point.

Click on the following pictures to see a larger version. Hold your cursor over the pictures to read the captions. The pictures were taken on different days and in different seasons. Note that the mileage readings below were taken from a bicycle odometer. Your mileage may vary. Trail conditions and accessibility are subject to change.

Matadero Creek to Byxbee Park

Water flow diagram on interpretive sign by Matadero Creek Near Matadero Creek by the Bay Trail is an interpretive sign with a diagram of the water flow through the Emily Renzel Wetlands marsh and the wetlands along Matadero Creek. This shows how freshwater flows from the water treatment plant, through the marsh, and into Matadero Creek ahead. It also shows how saltwater flows from the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor basin into the marsh east of the Emily Renzel Wetlands and into Matadero Creek, which becomes Mayfield Slough. This mixture of freshwater and saltwater marshes creates a diverse environment for a wide variety of plants and animals.

Interpretive sign by Matadero Creek overlooking Emily Renzel Marsh Just past the gate on the north side of Matadero Creek is an interpretive sign showing a cross-sectional view of the water flow from the water treatment plant, into the Emily Renzel Wetlands, and then into Matadero Creek. The wetlands themselves can be seen beyond the sign.

Drain outlet from Renzel Marsh to Matadero Creek Just ahead and to the right of the trail is the drain from the wetlands into Matadero Creek. To the left of the trail is a small finger of saltwater marsh. A wooden catwalk leads over this marsh to a valve structure on the edge of the Renzel Wetlands, which controls the flow of water from the wetlands into the creek. The trail continues to follow along the banks of Matadero Creek, which is a tree-shaded freshwater creek.

Saltwater Marsh Viewing Platform between Emily Renzel Marsh and landfill hills At 0.1 miles, the trail turns left by the saltwater marsh as it diverges from Matadero Creek. At 0.2 miles, it reaches an observation pier overlooking the marsh. On the pier is an interpretive sign which describes the saltwater flow into the marsh from the south end of the harbor basin. The source of this is a small inlet structure that looks like an observation pier on the harbor basin, near the entrance to Byxbee Park. This can be seen in the Baylands tour. A million gallons of saltwater a day are pumped from the marsh into Matadero Creek. This saltwater flow restores part of the natural flow of water that was stopped in 1921 when a dike was built, separating the surroinding baylands from San Fancisco Bay, turning it into a rain-fed freshwater habitat.

Marsh next to landfill hills Beyond, the salt marsh channel continues along the edge of the landfill. The path ahead into the landfill is off-limits.

Marsh by landfill to left of Matadero Creek trail The trail turns right here around the end of a narrow slough. At 0.4 miles, it bends to the left and follows along the side of the slough.

Great blue heron by landfill hill and slough to left of Matadero Creek trail The slough on the left ends at 0.5 miles, where it hits the landfill hill.

Matadero Creek by landfill hill Matadero Creek reappears and follows on the right side of the trail.

Fence by landfill hill The trail then turns to the right and follows along the edge of the landfill hill, which is behind a fence. At 0.6 miles, it turns left around the edge of the hill. The broad marhslands of Mayfield Slough spread ouit to the right.

Mayfield Slough, 3 slough channels come together The slough is part of the huge Palo Alto flood control basin. The slough widens out, with mudflats appearing on the edges at low tide. This is a large marsh with thick stands of pickleweed. At 0.9 miles, small channels join the main slough. The trail begins to curve to the left.

Mayfield Slough, Byxbee Park hills At 1.0 miles, the trail passes the fence separating the landfill hills from Byxbee Park.

Mayfield Slough looking towards tidal dam, Byxbee Park hills Looking bayward down along Mayfield Slough, the tidal dam at the end of the slough can be seen.

The keyhole There are several trails leading into the Byxbee Park hills. There are benches placed at the foot of the hills, facing the slough. At 1.2 miles, a triangular patch of white rocks appears. At the top is a waste gas burner. This is called the "Keyhole." The decay of refuse hidden under the hills produces methane gas. The Keyhole is a methane gas burnoff facility, surrounded by white gravel in the shape of a keyhole. The keyhole symbolizes the refuse locked up under the hills below.

Byxbee Park pole field from trail by Mayfield Slough At 1.4 miles, the trail passes by an array of telephone poles arrayed on the hills. This is the "Pole Field."

Gap in hills above concrete bars At 1.5 miles, the trail reaches the T-intersection at the edge of the yacht harbor basin. The trail to the right goes back along the Bay to Mountain View. The trail to the right goes past Byxbee park to its entrance and parking lot. Past the Pole Field, a path leads through a gap in the hills, with concrete bars on the hills along the way.

Byxbee Park

The following are views of Byxbee Park:

Aluminum plate map of Byxbee Park On the side of the restroom by the entrance of the park is an engraved aluminum plate map showing the park's features.

Byxbee Park entrance from end of parking lot  The hills of the park begin just beyond the parking lot.

The following are views from the top of the hills at Byxbee Park.

View from hill in Byxbee Park of restored marsh and Sea Scouts clubhouse, chevrons on hill The concrete Chevrons point down the hill towards the Palo Alto Municipal Airport runways. They serve as a guide for pilots, as well as slowing hillside erosion. Below is the former Palo Alto Yacht Harbor basin that is now a tidal salt marsh.

View of concrete weirs, pole field, and Dumbarton Bridge from Byxbee Park hill The concrete Weirs divide the hillside into small meadows. Beyond is the Pole Field. The telephone poles are arranged in rows on the hillside. The poles are of varying height, but the tops of the poles are all in a single plane, like the surface of the water. They are reminiscent of ruined pier pilings in the Bay. Beyond is the yacht harbor channel, the Harriet Mundy Marsh,

View of Bay from Byxbee Park hill This view takes in Mayfield Slough, the tidal dam gates near the yacht harbor channel, Hooks Island to the right, the Sailing Station to the left, and San Francisco Bay beyond.

View from Byxbee hills towards Hooks Island This view looks across the Pole Field and Mayfield Slough to the middle of Hooks Island.

View towards Adobe Creek slough This looks across the slough to the slough channel of Adobe Creek.

View across Mayfield Slough to Charleston Slough and Moffett Field This view looks across Charleston Slough and the Mountain View salt ponds. Beyond that are the hangars at Moffett Field.

Hillocks on Byxbee Park hill, looking southeast towards Shoreline Park The hillocks were inspired by the shell mounds of the Ohlone Indians who inhabited the regions thousands of years ago.

Air sculpture in Byxbee Park The Wind Wave Piece waves like the Bay waters with the wind.

Looking south across Matadero Creek from Byxbee Park hill This looks through hillocks up Mayfield Slough, which runs along the hills of the landfill.

Curving path with concrete bars on Byxbee Park hill Trails wind through the middle of the Byxbee Park hills. This path has concrete weirs on either side. Small bushes are planted along the way. The Dumbarton Bridge can be seen in the background.

S-curve path on hilltop by hillocks in Byxbee Park This path winds along the top of the hills by small hillocks, with a view of the yacht harbor basin in the background.

Geese on hill in Byxbee Park Geese can often be seen grazing on the grassy hills in the winter.

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Developed: 2/14/2000 by Ronald Horii

Information and opinions here are the responsibility of the author.