Just in time for full summer fun, the East Bay Regional Park District has announced the simultaneous opening of the Tilden Nature Area, including the Little Farm and Environmental Education Center, and the Tilden merry-go-round. The animals, both animate and inanimate, are back.
Since last October the Tilden Nature Area and the north end of Tilden Park were partially closed to allow completion of a major project that included replacing an aging sewage system and other maintenance repairs. Though slated for completion in five months, the project took twice as long. During that period the Little Farm, Indian Camp parking lot, and adjacent picnic and play areas and restrooms were closed.
Explaining the cause of the extended project time is like opening a Pandora's box of aged infrastructure with antiquated water and sewer lines.
"The broader answer is that Tilden is an incredibly old park, one of the original parks in the system, so to some extent, it wasn't until the job started and the crews starting digging that the full picture emerged," said Supervising Naturalist David Zuckermann.
"They had to trench hundreds and hundreds of yards to put in new sewer lines and there were additional problems putting in the large underground tank."
The wait was well worth it, as the improvements include a sanitary sewer system, renovations to the Indian Camp parking lot, construction of a new restroom and spiffing up of the Environmental Education Center.
Using funds from a 2004 Measure CC bond and a 2008 Measure WW development fund, the project removed old existing sewer holding tanks, eliminating the need for pumper trucks to enter the heavily visited Tilden Nature Area by installing gravity sewers, a sewer pump station and a 9,000-gallon holding tank located near the base of Canon Drive.
An added environmental bonus is the removal of the old holding tanks, with their potential for leakage, and installation of a system to capture all the water used to wash down the various animal pens into the sanitary sewer.
"Another benefit was to Indian Camp parking lot; there are now two pedestrian paths so people no longer have to walk down the center and be in traffic," Zuckermann said. "That's something we've been wanting for a long time."
Additionally, the paved trail from Indian Camp playground all the way to the Little Farm was graded to comply to Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.
Zuckermann and staff are also excited about the completion of a brand-new ADA-compliant restroom at the Little Farm, equipped with a double drinking fountain and soon to feature a 6-foot-long sink on the outside of the building with several faucets, soap and paper towels.
"When you think about it, there's a huge volume of kids out there that just need to wash their hands so we're trying to accommodate large groups," he said.
"That's another feature we've wanted for a long time."
During the closure, improvements were made to the EEC, including replacing the carpet and adding a fresh coat of paint indoors.
Since it quietly reopened on July 4, the Little Farm's business is booming. "It seems people are really enjoying visiting the farm once again; it has been mobbed every day with wall-to-wall people," Zuckermann said.
On July 3, the antique Tilden carousel, one of the Bay Area's oldest and most historic merry-go-rounds with its hand-carved and beautifully painted animals, reopened under new management.
Taking over from Terri Oyarzun and her family, whose second 10-year contract expired last year, are Sycamore Concessions Corporation. The new operator, a company with 50 employees, is also overseeing operations at Columbia Historic State Park in Tuolumne County.
Since Tilden Park and summer seem like natural partners, the way is now clear: Come for the Little Farm and merry-go-round, stay a bit longer to enjoy Lake Anza's swim area, the botanic garden and golf course, and the steam train, as well as hundreds of miles of hiking trails. The possibilities are endless.