When preparing for their field trip out to the San Pablo Baylands, teachers Kirsten Franklin and Eric Norstad posed this question to their students: How can we, as fourth graders, learn about the importance of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and help the Sonoma Land Trust share this information with the public in the form of a Public Service Announcement?
The San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a project years in the making; an acreage that has been given new life with it’s liberation from dry farmland to vital wetlands. In the mid 1980s, the Sonoma Land Trust acquired its first property in the Baylands along Highway 37. They then initiated the lengthy process of restoring the land to its natural state as tidal wetlands. This began by breaching a levee, which along with many others built in the 1880s destroyed the wetlands of the bay area to provide agricultural land for the growing city and population.
This is now a flourishing fully restored wetland marsh, but in 2003 the neighboring agricultural land was nearly home to Graton casino. Instead, with the support of tribal leader Greg Sarris, they gifted their $4,000,000 option on the land to Sonoma Land Trust and donated an additional $75,000. In 2005, Sonoma Land Trust was able to purchase massive amount of land, nearly 1,000 acres. Restoration on such a large scale took time and money; and so it was not until 2015 after years fund raising to support this ambitious endeavor, as well as much planning and preparation, that the levee was finally breached and the land was reunited with the San Francisco bay after almost a century.
Now walking along the San Pablo Bay trails, the students witness the animal and plant life that has returned to a fully restored tidal wetland marsh and observe the massive acreage flooded with salty bay water still in the beginning stages of restoration. Comparing the differences between the two is striking and compelling. With the encouragement of their teachers and the instruction of our guides, the students walked the beautiful trails observing and considering the importance and history of the land. With sketchbooks and notebooks, students were asked to find inspiration and consider how they might convey that to the public. Later, armed with garbage bags and gloves, they took time and great care to remove any trash and debris along the trails and shoreline. (The trash would later be taken back to class to be sorted and charted, as part of a mathematical assessment and analysis of what they found.)
While each experience is unique for the students, their wonder and fascination was palpable among them all. On such a beautiful day, it was not hard to appreciate the value of restoration and conservation.
I am anxiously waiting to watch the PSAs created by this thoughtful group of 4th graders!