Berkeley Residents Protest Jewel Lake’s Worsening Conditions

This past February 15, people held hands around the perimeter of Tilden Park’s Jewel Lake to give the water a communal embrace. The event was organized with the hopes of attracting the attention of East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) board member Elizabeth Echols, who represents Ward 1, of which Tilden Park is a part of. “It will require sustained and persistent public pressure to get something going,” said Keith Winnard, a Berkeley resident and concerned advocate of the lake. Winnard hoped to have enough people in attendance to attract Echols.

In recent years, the habitat at Jewel Lake has been in danger of extinction. As with all dammed areas, sediment has been accumulating since its dam was first constructed in the 1930s. Now, silt threatens the destruction of the entire lake habitat. Not having been dredged since 1991, nearly three decades ago, sediment has been continuously accumulating beneath the surface of the lake, making it “too shallow and too small to attract and sustain most of the fish, bird and animal species that it once did,” wrote Winnard in a piece published by the Daily Californian. The habitat is slowly dying as the lake loses its ability to support the environment that it created so long ago.

Lying in a place a little ways down a dirt path from Tilden’s Little Farm and surrounded by trees, the lake has been a favorite of families with young children and the elderly for walks in nature for the past few decades. Standing at the water’s edge there, it seems as though this lake is at the center of everything. Surrounded by the sounds of nature, bird calls and small rustles in the brush, the noises of human civilization are made distant. Only the occasional roar of airplanes passing overhead and the excited shouts of children break the silence every so often. Jewel Lake is a true gem of the East Bay for many locals. “This is the most accessible and … was one of the most diverse wildlife viewing sites in Tilden Park,” said Winnard. “[For] elderly people with mobility problems and really young kids in strollers, it’s an easy walk.” With the option of going down either a partially paved fire road for less than a quarter mile or through the forest down the winding Jewel Lake Trail for just under a mile, the lake is readily accessible to the public. “It’s [also] the perfect wildlife viewing site, and they’re just letting it go down the drain,” said Winnard.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the recent event attracted the attention of very many people, as there were only just over two dozen in attendance — all of them over 50 years of age — and the crowd was quick to disperse. With no official leadership or directing body to run the event, everyone present seemed unsure of what was going on and how to participate. Many attendees seemed disappointed as they left, due to the lack of impact the outing brought.

For some of the elderly who have walked by the lake for many years, observing the wildlife is one of the aspects they most enjoy. They notice the different species of birds that come throughout the year, fondly conversing over the observed sizes and coloring of them all. However, as the lake continues to shallow, it becomes increasingly unable to support all the wildlife it has attracted for so long, and so much of that wildlife has now left its calm waters.

“I started coming here about 30 years ago and I noticed it silting up. And then 20 years ago they actually dredged it. They haven’t done it since then. So we’ve lost … [a lot] of the [water] capacity because it’s so shallow now. It’s so shallow it cannot support fish,” said a man named Ben who attended the February event and asked that his last name be withheld.

If the environment at Jewel Lake is not soon prioritized, it is certain the habitat will continue to slowly become extinct.

Many of the event’s attendees remarked on the absence of young people, as everyone present was older. The majority of students at Berkeley High School (BHS) remain unaware of what is happening to the environment at Jewel Lake. “I went there when I was little, I love it,” said BHS sophomore Julia Headley. She did not know about what has been happening to the habitat at Jewel Lake before being asked about it, but said that she is concerned for the wildlife. “It’s a question of prioritization and it’s a question of values — what exactly does the park district value,” said Winnard. If the environment at Jewel Lake is not soon prioritized, it is certain the habitat will continue to slowly become extinct. There is a sign that reads, “Do Not Feed The Waterfowl,” at the furthest part of the lake, but oftentimes the only waterfowl there might be is a few mallards. On some days the lake appears not to be the home of any creatures at all, devoid of life except for the verdure around it: a glimpse at what might become of it if the lake is not dredged and the habitat is left to defunct.

The fate of Jewel Lake will remain uncertain unless the EBRPD decides to take action to combat future harm.

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