A new vision for one special place in Pacifica could help bring some desperately needed respite for imperiled wildlife, while helping protect the town’s homes and vital infrastructure.
One of the rarest, and arguably most beautiful snakes in the world, and Mark Twain’s Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County once thrived together in Pacifica’s cool, fog-swept coastal wetlands. Here, the San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog played out the ancient dance of predator and prey among the town’s ponds and muddy rushes—protected from the salty battering of the sea by an extensive network of dunes, wetlands, and lagoons.
Centuries of development have reduced San Mateo’s natural coastal areas to just a fraction of what they once were. This has not only been bad news for the snake and the frog, which are now both on the Endangered Species List, but also for Pacifica residents whose property and roads are threatened by the resulting flooding and shoreline erosion.
One place that is no stranger to flooding is Sharp Park Golf Course, which sits in a low basin that was once a coastal lagoon at the point where the surrounding hillsides drain into the Pacific Ocean. The lagoon was filled to create the golf course, and the outlet of Sanchez Creek, which flows through the property, has been blocked by a seawall in the years since. The resulting changes in Sharp Park’s hydrology have wreaked havoc on both the golf course and the plants and animals that once lived there.
The proposed Sharp Park restoration will stop draining the lagoon and allow naturally rising water levels to reestablish a freshwater wetland. Rising seas will slowly erode the berm between the lagoon and the ocean, and in the process recreate the dune ecosystem that once existed there. These dunes will protect the new freshwater wetlands and lagoon from coastal storm surges and salt water tides. Any breaches caused by winter storms will make only the seaside portion of the lagoon brackish, while preserving ample freshwater areas for the snake and frog.
What was once a soggy and difficult to maintain golf course will become an essential part of a natural gradient among ocean, beach, dune, lagoon, wetland, and upland areas, which will help the landscape accommodate sea level rise over time. These newly reconnected habitats, combined with additional wildlife corridor enhancement, will also give the snake, frog, and other creatures access to Lake Arrowhead and the national park lands east and south, allowing them to once again become an integral part of Pacifica’s coastal landscapes.
A summary of the restoration plan, including estimated costs and benefits, is available here. Highlights include:
- Remove pumping infrastructure and stop draining the filled lagoon to allow water levels to rise and create an open water marsh.
- Daylight and remove culverted sections of Sanchez Creek to restore natural stream processes and wildlife habitat.
- Create migration corridors, refuges, and nesting and breeding habitats for the San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frogs.
- Allow the existing coastal seawall to erode and slowly migrate as ocean waves rise and push sand inland.
- Construct small levees along the western and northern edges of the Fairway Park neighborhood and along Clarendon Road/Lakeside Avenue for flood protection.
- Install new stormwater infrastructure to protect breeding frogs and collect runoff from adjacent neighborhoods.
- Improve recreational opportunities, including a walking trail around the lagoon, a boardwalk over wetlands and uplands between the lagoon and the pond, and interpretive signs or kiosks.