History of Baylands Nature Preserve

Palo Alto Historical Association: John Fletcher Byxbee Recreation Area (part of the Baylands Nature Preserve)

The Byxbee Park Hills area of Baylands was named for John Fletcher Byxbee Jr., Palo Alto City Engineer from 1906 to 1941. John Fletcher Byxbee

John Byxbee, born in San Francisco in 1878, came to live in Palo Alto in 1894. He was a member of the first graduating class of Palo Alto High School. At Stanford University he studied under C. D. Marx, founder of the City of Palo Alto utilities system, and graduated with a B.A. in Civil Engineering with the class of 1902. At first named Assistant City Engineer, he became City Engineer in 1906. Our public utilities system, sewage system, and the Embarcadero Road and University Avenue underpasses were all developed under his guidance. After his retirement, he served on the Planning Commission until his death in 1947.

Byxbee envisioned the development of the Baylands as a park and recreation center and in January 1921, the Board of Public Works recommended the initial purchase of 40 acres of marshland. Nine years later, Byxbee submitted a plan that included a municipal airport, a salt-water swimming pool, a yacht harbor -- yachting was his main recreation -- and clubhouse, a basin for seaplanes, and areas for playgrounds, picnic grounds, golf course, and a game reserve. The cost was estimated at 2.2 million dollars.

In 1968, the city Council named the park the John Fletcher Byxbee Recreation Area. However, today the term "Baylands Nature Preserve" is used more readily in the city's publications. The area covers several facilities and occupies 1,940 acres. The land was acquired between 1921 and 1958 through a series of acquisitions and one condemnation - 23 transactions in all.

At present, the Baylands complex consists of the former Yacht Harbor area, the Palo Alto Airport, the Municipal Golf Course, the Duck Pond and public picnic area, the Baylands Athletic Center, the Sailing Station, the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, the Harriet Mundy Marsh and tidal basin. Each of the first three facilities has a history too long to be included here, but the material is readily available in the files of the Historical Association.

The Duck Pond is a popular family attraction. Besides the resident population of several species of ducks, it is a way station for many migratory birds. The pond was originally built as a swimming pool, but because of siltation problems, it was soon converted to a bird refuge with funds from the estate of Lucie Stern. On the far side of the pond a table with two benches nestled among the trees and shrubs is provided for picnickers.

The Baylands Athletic Center is located at the end of Geng Road. It was completed in 1969 for the practice of field and team sports and includes a lighted baseball diamond with a 500-seat grandstand, a multi-use field, and parking lots.

The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center is built on pilings at the edge of the salt marsh. A plank walk leads a quarter-mile across the marsh to open water and a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay. The Center offers various programs and activities such as nature walks, animal and fossil workshops for children, an ecology laboratory, and displays of tidelands flora and fauna.

Lucy Evans, born in Wyoming in 1903, came to California with her family at the age of two. She graduated from Stanford in 1929, having been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She taught at Mayfield School for 23 years. Class field trips led to her joining the Audubon Society and exploring the Baylands extensively. A friend has said that "she knew every inch" of them. She fought for the preservation of the Baylands, and her determination earned her the appellation "Baylands Lucy." She died suddenly in 1978. The Baylands Nature Interpretive Center was rededicated to her memory in December 1978.

The Harriet Mundy Marsh, dedicated on October 23, 1982, extends from Lucy Evans Nature Interpretive Center to Sand Point. Harriet Mundy "discovered" the Baylands when she was advised to walk after a fall in 1959. She became a close friend of Lucy Evans and joined her in the resolve to help preserve the Palo Alto marshland. A $30 million private proposal to develop the Palo Alto Baylands for commercial and industrial use spurred Mundy to action. In 1960 she helped to circulate a petition which resulted in the City Council stopping development until a Baylands Master Plan was prepared. The naming of the marsh recognizes her continued perseverance and devotion to the marshlands.

The Emily Renzel Wetlands restoration project was completed in 1992, utilizing a $1,000,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy to enhance the salt marsh portion of wetlands with bay water, and creating a new 15-acre fresh water pond.   The freshwater pond uses pumped reclaimed water from the nearby Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Shortly after the wetland restoration and pond project was completed, the area was named after former City Councilmember Emily Renzel for her tireless work over 20 years to preserve and protect Palo Alto's Baylands. Ms. Renzel was also a principal sponsor of the City's park dedication ordinance that protects park and open space land from any form of public or private development without the expressed consent of Palo Alto voters.

The Baylands consists of approximately 1,940 acres in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.

Last Updated: June 7, 2007