The Richmond Landfill Loop is perhaps the most unusual hike on the Bay Trail


As an avid hiker and perpetual seeker of new things, setting foot on a new trail always gives me a hard time. As far as I know I have hiked all trails in San Francisco as well as many trails in the East Bay, Marin and Peninsula. But I’m always looking for something new. One weekend while browsing, I came across an intriguing list for the ‘landfill loop’ in Richmond. With a name like that, I knew I had to check it out.

The 2.8-mile course circles the 180-acre, 158-foot-high Republic Services landfill known as “Garbage Mountain.” It has been open since 2011 and is part of the San Francisco Bay Trail. It was created to provide public access to the shoreline of San Pablo Bay, fill a gap in the Bay Trail, and provide public access as part of the landfill closure plan.

Despite the off-putting name, I could see by looking at a map that the start and end of the trail would run alongside Wildcat and San Pablo Creek Swamps, respectively, and the middle of the trail would face San Pablo Bay. One recent Sunday I went on a hike to see it for myself, taking my mom on an adventure. As I got closer to the start, I noticed that the area was very industrial and I didn’t see any traces of nature … anywhere. The trail parking lot looked like a business ground and the workers ate on their lunch break. But a colorful “Wildcat Marsh & Landfill Loop Trail” sign and a trail guide distributor assured me I was in the right place. So we walked to a fence at the back of the lot, opened the gate and started our walk.

Garbage Mountain is a sealed and covered landfill 158 feet high.

Alexandra kenin

Upon entering the trail, you quickly pass a Republic Services power plant, which converts the methane produced by the landfill into renewable energy, and a transfer station where waste is sorted and transferred to other active landfills. In the distance, plumes of condensed water vapor rise in front of you from the cooling towers of the Chevron refinery. On your right is Garbage Mountain. Not quite living up to its title, there is no trash in sight, but the hill does have a trashy past. It was an active landfill between 1953 and 2006, and hazardous waste – pesticides, paint, and other industrial waste – was dumped there between 1960 and 1985. It seemed incongruous to have a mountain of garbage next to the swamps where the sea lives. wildlife, but an informational signage assured me that a thick layer of bay mud prevents trash from flowing into the water below. The dirt and grass atop Garbage Mountain are just the final “plug” in a series of layers of topsoil, gravel, plastic, and compacted clay preventing any harmful elements from escaping from the summit.

Liquids called leachate that accumulate at the base of the landfill remain on top of the protective sludge layer and are collected and treated at an on-site treatment facility before being released to the County of Wastewater District. West neighbor. Harmful gases such as methane and carbon dioxide that are produced during the decomposition of waste are not released freely into the atmosphere but transferred to an on-site power plant for reduction. About 40% of the electricity produced is used to power site equipment. Then the remaining 60% is delivered to the PG&E power grid to provide electricity to local households. The landfill plans to continue producing energy as long as the waste (including methane and compost) is available, said Ed Baquerizo, environmental compliance manager at Republic Services.

A view of the landfill loop.

A view of the landfill loop.

Doug donaldson

As you continue for the first mile of the trail towards San Pablo Bay, you hear the faint crackle of power pylons on the adjacent property and pass a 40-acre retention pond. Although dry and empty when I visited, this pond does fill up with rainwater – as well as ducks and waders – during the winter months.

When we got to the 0.3 mile section along San Pablo Bay, we found ourselves close to the water with a serene view of Mt Tamalpais. There was a fork for a higher trail for higher views, but we decided to stay at the water’s edge, where we spied a few pelicans fishing for lunch about ten yards away. The area was peaceful, not smelling of trash, as a few AllTrails reviews warned, but fennel, and we only spotted one other person on the trail.

We then arrived in the northwest corner of the park, the “mirror,” where we took in a panorama including China Camp State Park, Mount Burdell, and Point Pinole. There was also a picnic area to take in the view.

We hiked the north side of the park for 1.18 miles to reach the San Pablo Creek swamp, where we saw seagulls resting in the water. And finally, we made a turn to continue the last 0.32 miles until the start.

An aerial view of the landfill loop.

An aerial view of the landfill loop.

East Bay Regional Park District

Is this the Bay Area’s most scenic hike? Probably not, but I have found the coexistence of nature and industry here very compelling. Just off the trail, 89 solar panels owned by the West County Wastewater District provide electricity to run company equipment. The treated water is sent to the Chevron refinery and to irrigate the Richmond Country Club. It’s an ecosystem of industrial, green energy that somehow seems to work.

After the first industrial views it was a serene hike, especially after the first mile. If you stopped on the trail for a moment and closed your eyes, you could listen to the water splashing against the shore, hear the shorebirds calling, and have this piece of the bay area all to yourself.

Alexandra Kenin runs a hiking business called Urban Hiker SF and is the author of two hiking guides for the Bay Area: “Urban Trails San Francisco” and “Urban Trails: East Bay”. Find her on instagram at @urbanhikersf and email her at [email protected]

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