For the next several months, visitors to the Tilden Nature Area in the Berkeley hills will need to adjust their plans while a major sewer-construction project is underway.
Long needed and a long time in the planning, the project will greatly improve both the safety and efficiency of sanitation services, maintenance and operation of Tilden Regional Park for staff and visitors alike.
From October to February, several areas will be closed at different stages of construction, including the Little Farm; the Indian Camp parking lot, picnic areas, play structure and restroom; and Big Leaf picnic area and restrooms. Some Tilden Park Nature Area Trails may be closed as well, requiring detours. Though the Indian Camp parking lot will be closed to vehicles, access through the area will be available for visitors to walk.
While the construction will create some closures, park naturalists want to assure visitors that the Environmental Education Center will remain open and its programs will go on as usual.
The present system has been in existence for many years, built in phases as needs in the park grew, creating a series of systems each draining into separate holding tanks spread out around the nature area.
"Right now, these tanks have to be emptied regularly by a pumper truck that has to drive around the nature area," said Glen Gilcrest, East Bay Regional Park District civil engineer and project designer. "That means driving through crowded public areas, and that has a lot of impact on people."
A further environmental concern is the age of the piping and tanks, motivating their removal before leakage could affect creek and lake waters.
The solution is consolidation and modernization. The park district will abandon the existing sewer holding tanks and replace them with a 9,000-gallon holding tank to be located at the base of Canon Drive.
This change will eliminate the need for a pumper truck to enter the parking lots or public areas. The tank will also be monitored with a level sensor allowing for remote monitoring.
Additional project components include the installation of gravity sewers and manholes; a sewer lift station; and a state-of-the-art pump control panel, allowing for uphill drainage to the main holding tank.
While the project is in progress, the closure of the Little Farm will provide the opportunity for additional farm improvements. These include a system to capture all runoff water from farm animal enclosures, a newly designed bathroom compliant with the Americans with Disability Act and an ADA-accessible fountain.
Dave Zuckermann, the supervising park naturalist, wants the public to understand the reasons behind the project and the commitment of park staff during the work.
"We really have a commitment to keeping the environmental (educational) program going for the schools because a lot of teachers use the services here and we have a talented staff that's ready to go," he said. "We're keeping the public programs going, too, and will be including information about where to park and how to get into the Environmental Education Center."
Closure conditions will vary as the project progresses, so Zuckermann recommends that visitors check the park district's website or call the center to see where areas or trails have been fenced off.
"We ask the public's understanding," he said. "It's a huge project and it's been a long time coming, but I think that when it's done it will be a huge benefit."
The nearly $1 million project, funded by Measure WW, is officially known as EEC Phase One Sewer Improvement, prompting curious minds to inquire "What's Phase Two?"
"For Phase Two, we would like to, in the future, pump up Canon Drive into a city manhole to get the material out of the park completely so we don't need a pumper truck at all," Gilcrest said. "There are a lot of pieces to put that together and it will be expensive, but we hope to have the money eventually and actually get the trucks out of there completely."
For more information on Tilden Regional Park Nature Area closures and Environmental Education Center programs call 510-544-2747 or go to www.ebparks.org/parks/tilden.