Program Narrative for Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary


Standing on the paved surface of Illinois Street at the west end of the Pier 80 cargo dock in San Francisco, it is easy to overlook the possibilities inherent to a parcel of open space nestled in among the industrial developments on the northern shore of Islais Creek.   It is difficult to believe that 1,000 years ago this same spot, now in an underserved and generally low-income community (District 10), was a marsh teeming with abundant wildlife that sustained the Muwekma Ohlone people. 


Before Europeans arrived, the forks of Islais Creek, as well as other tributaries and springs, brought freshwater through large expanses of marshland in this very area. The Muwekma Ohlone people thrived on the variety of vegetation and wildlife.  The shell mounds still exist in some parts of the City as testament to their plentiful food source.   Islais Creek provided 85% of the drinking water for the city of San Francisco until the late 1800’s.  Herring and other fish migrated up the creek, and still do.  Commercial fishing vessels today regularly follow schools of herring up the same waterway the fish have been swimming for thousands of years. 


However, human activities in the area have had their toll.  Highways, roads, and other construction have blocked all but one tributary to the area now known as Islais Creek.  Three-quarters of the waterway have been filled.  At times, discarded animal blood and organs from the rendering industry, “Butcher Town,” made the creek run notoriously red.  Until recently, raw sewage ran directly into the creek.  Industry lining the shores of the creek has included, among other things, automobile battery manufacture, auto wrecking, shipping, bus storage and repair, aluminum manufacturing, toxic waste soil treatment, and a scrap metal yard.

Looking a bit closer at the small area of precious open space, and the additional 1.5 acres that may be exposed by low tides, today we still find a persistent biological diversity in the unseemly preserve, as well as the potential for educational and recreational opportunities to connect today’s humans with the natural and cultural history of the area.  We also find adjacencies and linkages to other small parks and bits of open spaces preserved by the efforts of local San Franciscans, creating an unexpected string of pearls in this region of the City.

After 70 years of no use and little attention, local neighborhood activists, calling themselves the "Islais Creek Guerrilla Gardeners," began to consider what could be done with the intertidal lot.  Their efforts to preserve open space in the rapidly developing neighborhood have met widespread support from local community members, politicians, and industry.

It is my belief that this project is a strong asset to our community here in Bayview as a habitat sanctuary and an environmental education tool.

- Sophenia Maxwell, District 10 Supervisor

We … admire the grass-roots efforts to enhance the natural environmental value of this strip of shoreline.

- RMC Pacific Materials, local industry, in a letter pledging ongoing stewardship, environmental expertise, construction materials, and financial support

… a wonderful addition to the growing chain of public access sites on San Francisco’s south-central waterfront.

- Julia Viera, Director of Friends of Islais Creek

David Erickson, a community activist and artist, has voluntarily managed the Sanctuary and its efforts depending largely on the expertise and resources of community collaborations, volunteer support, and consultants when funding is available.  Grassroots in its origin, there are currently no staff employed by the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary and no source of income other than grant support and in-kind donations.  Some recent activities and accomplishments of Sanctuary volunteers and consultants include:

·      3/20/01 Muwekma Ohlone Park history completed by historian (,

·      4/07/01  Park stewardship day was supported by Youth in Action (YIA), part of the San Francisco Conservation Corps Park, RMC Concrete employees (providing labor and lunch), Hanson Aggregates employees, and the City of San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks (providing labor and mulch).

·      4/21/01 Another Park stewardship day was attended by YIA, and the Department of Recreation and Parks.

·      5/19/01 The Muwekma Ohlone Pocket Park, the Native American Cultural Center, and the Neighborhood Parks Council collaborated to host the documentary film festival, “Weaving Our Roots: Native Art in the Parks” on-site.

·      6/26/01 Consultants from Bik Wah International completed topographical, habitat, and plant community surveys and map of upland and intertidal zone areas from Third Street to eastern end of Park.

·      7/09/01: YIA assisted with trash abatement, weeding, and planting indigenous seedlings donated by the Natural Areas Program of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

·      7/12/01 “Education, Restoration, and Recreation at the Muwekma Ohlone Pocket Park,” a strategic plan for integrating the natural area into the community, was completed.  Consultants conducted a preliminary biological inventory and assessed the needs and resources of interested organizations and individuals.  Their report proposed potential partnerships and appropriate educational programming, as well as some habitat restoration and recreational uses of the Park.

·      7/14/01 San Francisco Sierra Club “Ballpark to Ballpark” hike brought 35 hikers to the Park along their nine mile route, as the hikers learned about significant natural, recreational, historical and developing areas between Pac Bell Park in Mission Bay and 3-Com Ballpark at South Basin.

·      8/04/01 The Park hosted a community meeting to present and discuss the impact of the Illinois Street InterModel Bridge Project on the Park and the local community.  Attendees included representatives from the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, the Living Art Community of Illinois Street at Islais Creek, the USDA Urban Resources Partnership Grant Program, the Wildlife Habitat Council, the EPA, the California Academy of Sciences, the Port of San Francisco, the Neighborhood Parks Council, and the Supervisor for San Francisco District 10.

·      10/11/01 Representatives from the Education Department and the Department of Invertebrate Zoology from the California Academy of Sciences visited the Park to explore possible future relationships with their educational programming and with their SF Bay:2K research project, documenting the biodiversity of benthic fauna of the San Francisco Bay.

·      10/20/01 Ridge Trail Education Group assisted with trash abatement and planting of indigenous plants donated by Natural Areas Program.

·      8/01-11/01 San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners provided fennel eradication over three visits.

·      11/01/01 E.R. Taylor Elementary School provided trash abatement and planted native seedlings donated by the Natural Areas Program.

·      2/23/02 The Park hosted students from YIA in their efforts to produce a documentary film on environmental injustices in the area.


In order to continue and improve efforts to preserve, protect, and educate about biological diversity, the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary, seeks funding to:

In 2001, the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary received a San Francisco Urban Resources Partnership grant to develop a master plan to restore and manage the open space.  Consultants were hired to develop a strategic plan for integrating the natural area into the community.  They conducted a preliminary biological inventory of the natural area, assessed the needs and resources of interested organizations and individuals, proposed potential partnerships with other organizations, and proposed educational programs.  As community needs, interests, and resources went beyond educational programming, habitat restoration and recreational uses of the location were incorporated into the strategic plan.  Due to the ceaseless energy of the park stewards, many relationships had already been established and some educational, recreational, and restoration activities were already under way.

The biological inventory was a preliminary survey of the common flora and fauna found at the site from April to May of 2001.  Through repeated visits, organisms found from the upland area to the low tide zone and birds in the general vicinity were identified and listed.   The survey does not include plants probably introduced from landscaping efforts on the site.  Whenever possible, sampling and identification was done on site and without injuring the living organisms.  No voucher specimens were collected unless otherwise noted.  Although these inventory methods limit the scope and resolution of the survey they are in keeping with the ethical precepts of the park steward and the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary project.  For a historical and regional perspective, the California Academy of Sciences generously offered their database of collections from Islais Creek.  Although these data are from a broader region than the area that is now the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary, they do give information about the creek generally and its biological diversity.  One of the organisms found in the 2001 biological inventory was not previously known by Academy scientists to be found in San Francisco Bay and was accessioned into the collection of their Department of Invertebrate Zoology.


The strategic plan lays out the next steps that should be taken to integrate the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary with the needs and resources of the community fall in three basic and overlapping categories: restoration, education, and recreation. 


Support of and interest in restoration activities at the Sanctuary, creating a space that contains and protects more nature and native plants and animals, was ubiquitous among community members.  Biological data, current as well as archival, describe a rich diversity of species found at the site, from the upland area to the intertidal zone, as well as flying overhead.  This biological diversity can be enhanced and maintained while supporting educational and recreational interests in the area.  A rich natural area will also draw more participants to educational programming.  Additionally, restoration activities often form the bulk of environmental educational programs.  In any restoration efforts, native plants will be used, particularly those that best lend themselves to teaching about native California uses of plants.


The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary invites a meaningful and rewarding relationship with various organizations committed to habitat restoration, many of which have expressed interest in the project.  The Center for Habitat Restoration at San Francisco City College has expertise in restoration projects, knowledge of the area, student and other resources, and willingness to work on the project make them an ideal partner.  Their restoration project at nearby Heron’s Head Park serves as a model for what could be done in terms of biological restoration at the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary.  Friends of the Urban Forest also has knowledge of the area, expertise and resources to bear.  They have been involved in tree plantings in the area.  Their ability to obtain trees, arborist expertise, and dedication to creating community through planting trees makes them an ideal partner.  Additionally, Friends of the Urban Forest has a commitment to serving communities in San Francisco that have been least likely to plant street trees, including District 10.  The California Academy of Sciences, one of the country’s largest natural history museums, has already contributed archival information on the biological diversity documented in Islais Creek, helped identify some of the organisms found in the biological inventory, and has further agreed to include the Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary as a location in their project to inventory the benthic organisms of San Francisco Bay.  Other potential relationships in restoration efforts include the Crissy Field Center (with laboratories and expertise in biological monitoring and restoration projects), Save the Bay (children in the Canoes In Sloughs program would participate in service learning projects at the site), and the local Buena Vista Elementary School.  The San Francisco Conservation Corp and others have already volunteered staff and hours to clean-up efforts at the Pocket Park.  The San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Natural Areas Program of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department will be consulted for their expertise.  The Neighborhood Parks Council’s shared vision for restoration, interest in District 10, and variety of resources (volunteers, lobbying, etc.) will be considered as well.


Educational opportunities at the Sanctuary were as universally important to those interested in the site as restoration activities.  There are many opportunities to overlap these two interests, as various individuals and organizations hope to teach students through participation in restoration activities.  Save the Bay’s Canoes in Sloughs program would like to incorporate a stop at the Muwekma Ohlone Pocket Park in their watershed and Bay education program, providing scholarships and otherwise encouraging participation of local children.  Buena Vista Elementary School (seeking outdoor laboratory, cultural history, and service learning experiences), Visitation Valley Greenway Project (already studying watersheds and the upper part of Islais Creek), Canoes in Sloughs (seeking local children and pull-out site with native plants for their canoes), and the Conservation Connection of the San Francisco Unified School District all have students and expressed interest in providing children with educational programs at the site.  Organizations that offer programming and seek students may be introduced to others that have students and seek programming in this local Sanctuary. 


A relationship may be developed with the Crissy Fields Center, as their demonstrated commitment to programming in the region, willingness to deliver educational programs off-site, and ability to “get the word out” through community project expertise and newsletter that reaches 26,000 people would significantly expand the ability to deliver educational programs for the community surrounding the Park as well as getting others from outside the immediate area to visit.  If the Center for Habitat Restoration is partnered with for restoration efforts, they may also be able to develop educational programs relevant to the site.   Neighborhood Parks Council sponsored activities, such as naturalist walking tours of the region, offered to include the Sanctuary in their programs.


The Muwekma Ohlone Sanctuary, though small in size, provides an immeasurable opportunity to create collaborations between and unite the efforts of many individuals and organizations invested in the region of the Islais Creek habitat.