RICHMOND -- Tarnel Abbott sat on a hunk of knotty driftwood Monday morning and listened to the water gently lap at the shore.
It was the first time in more than a decade the Richmond resident could enjoy the sights and sounds of Point Molate Beach Park.
"Being here takes me back to when I was a kid and we'd have picnics here," Abbott said, her dog pawing at the wet sand near her feet. "To reopen the beach today, after all the city went through. ... I can't tell you how happy this makes me."
Point Molate Beach, the only stretch of beach run by the city's parks department, reopened to the public Monday for the first time since it was shuttered amid budget constraints and political turmoil in 2001. The reopening was made possible thanks to months of planning, countless hours of cleanup by volunteers and about $115,000 in improvements funded by a portion of the settlement from a 2007 oil spill off Richmond's shore.
The park features several new picnic tables and gleaming metal barbecues, a portable restroom and a freshly-paved and painted parking lot.
The sublime views of the San Rafael Bridge and polychromatic surface waters are old charms that haven't lost their luster.
"I think it is the nicest beach at any park in Richmond," said Councilman Tom Butt. "Reopening part of the waterfront to the public is great."
The first day in the beach's next chapter began with a pre-dawn gathering of a handful of residents on hand to watch security staff unlock the gates.
"(Wild) turkeys greeted us as we drove in and seals watched us as we toasted the beach and one another," resident Charles Smith wrote in an email Monday. Smith also thanked Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, city staff and local volunteers for "continuing the fight to preserve Point Molate for now and for future generations."
Support for reopening the beach has been building for years. Groups including Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate and the Watershed Project organized a beach cleanup and hauled away debris to celebrate Earth Day 2012, plucking hundreds of pounds of tires, boat parts and other trash from the sands and waters. Later that year, the City Council voted to use funds from a $669,000 settlement stemming from the November 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill. In that accident, the tanker leaked more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the bay, some of the inky cargo washing onto Richmond's shores.
In March, the council unanimously approved the park restoration plan. Improvements made by the city's Public Works Department include new picnic tables with anchored barbecues, an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant pathway and picnic pad, and a paved entrance and striped parking lot. The park also includes an ADA portable restroom pending funding for permanent bathroom facilities.
Mid-Monday morning, three people and their two dogs were seen padding around the beach, wading in the cold waters.
McLaughlin hailed the reopening as a "momentous occasion."
"The public can once again start to visit this incredibly beautiful place tucked away in a breathtaking setting," McLaughlin wrote in an email Monday.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.