The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, just about 70 miles from us here in Golden Gate Park, is an amazingly beautiful place with a remarkable history. Home to fish and fowl and some of the most fertile soil in the state, the Delta provides fresh water to urban areas and farms. Over the years, it’s become a recreation and suburban dream and a political nightmare.
And, if some people have their way, it will become your new national park.
As the Sacramento Bee wrote last week, this is an ambitious, “purely academic plan” right now, developed by John Bass, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. He has set up a website to start speculation and conversation about the possibilities.
The plan offers several innovations on the typical national park model. Levee ownership would change, but other land ownership would not. There would be your typical national park lodge, but during part of the year, it would house migrant workers.
Sarah Lewis, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy & Management, is writing her dissertation on land-use in the Delta, past, present and future. When we asked her about the concept of the Delta National Park, it was the first she’d heard of it. “The approach is entirely novel. It would be great for the ecosystem and just what the species need,” she said. “But it wouldn’t be a national park like Yosemite. There would still be privately owned land and water could still flow freely. How would it really change things? Would there be any pesticide restrictions? My main question would be, by making it a national park, what would be different? “
With all of the political wrangling around the Delta, a national park designation seems all but impossible.
Yet, the state is planning to apply to Congress to make the Delta the state’s first National Heritage Area, with the National Park Service in a purely advisory role. A regional trail system is also in the works.
Perhaps these are both first steps in the direction of a new national park? Maybe it’s not so impossible after all.