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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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Beyond, the salt marsh channel continues along the edge of the landfill. The path ahead into the landfill is off-limits.
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.
The slough on the left ends at 0.5 miles, where it hits the landfill hill.
Matadero Creek reappears and follows on the right side of the trail.
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.
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.
At 1.0 miles, the trail passes the fence separating the landfill hills from Byxbee Park.
Looking bayward down along Mayfield Slough, the tidal dam at the end of the slough can be seen.
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.
At 1.4 miles, the trail passes by an array of telephone poles arrayed on the hills. This is the "Pole Field."
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.
On the side of the restroom by the entrance of the park is an engraved aluminum plate map showing the park's features.
The hills of the park begin just beyond the parking lot.
The following are views from the top of the hills at Byxbee Park.
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.
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,
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.
This view looks across the Pole Field and Mayfield Slough to the middle of Hooks Island.
This looks across the slough to the slough channel of Adobe Creek.
This view looks across Charleston Slough and the Mountain View salt ponds. Beyond that are the hangars at Moffett Field.
The hillocks were inspired by the shell mounds of the Ohlone Indians who inhabited the regions thousands of years ago.
The Wind Wave Piece waves like the Bay waters with the wind.
This looks through hillocks up Mayfield Slough, which runs along the hills of the landfill.
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.
This path winds along the top of the hills by small hillocks, with a view of the yacht harbor basin in the background.
Geese can often be seen grazing on the grassy hills in the winter.
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