Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve?
The Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve currently consists of 130 acres on the southern end of Mare Island. This property was formerly the Mare Island Naval Ammunition Depot. The 130 acres is currently owned by the City of Vallejo, and is expected to expand up to as much as 300 acres after additional acreage is transferred to the City from the U.S. Navy. The 2007 Mare Island Specific Plan designates the Preserve for recreational purposes and open space.
The Mare Island Heritage Trust has operated the property continuously without an agreement with the City of Vallejo, since opening it to the public for the first time in 150 years in 2007 and for regular public use in April 2008. More than a decade later, the Preserve is still operated as an interim use status in anticipation of a future permanent park plan. That is one of many reasons why it is not currently “upgraded” to a National Park type park. The 35 member, Mayoral appointed Mare Island Regional Park Taskforce (2003-2007) conducted extensive review of the Preserve’s resources and recommended that the property be operated as a Preserve to both protect the fragile natural and cultural history values, while assuring appropriate public access. The guiding principles contained in the Final Report prepared with the Taskforce by a City hired consultant, for $75,000, are our managing bible.
What is the Mare Island Heritage Trust and what are its accomplishments?
The 2008 Advisory Board Report submitted by a Vallejo City Council selected and appointed Advisory Board regarding the Preserve governance, recommended a hybrid management scenario in which the City of Vallejo would partner with a newly established non-profit whose sole purpose would be the development and management of the envisioned Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve. The Mare Island Heritage Trust was founded in 2009 for this purpose.
Following the submittal of all reports and events commemorating the 150th anniversary of Mare Island, the non-profit Mare Island Heritage Trust offered to open the Preserve initially on a monthly basis for public use beginning in April 2008. However, the City of Vallejo declared bankruptcy three weeks later.
Despite the City’s bankruptcy eleven years ago, the Vallejo community has strongly supported Preserve operations with robust devotion to their park and love of the place. The recommendations of the Task Force Report are the guiding principles for the management of the property. Since 2008, working and growing as a startup nonprofit organization, the Trust has increased its organizational capacity. The Trust has successfully established and operate a significant park presence in the community and region despite starting out and continuing to live on a “shoestring” budget of well under $100,000 per year.
Despite extremely limited funding, the Trust’s work has paid off. Our vision for a self-sustaining community-based urban wildlands park has been realized, despite lack of support from the City of Vallejo. The Preserve has been open every weekend and all holidays since Fall 2010. Thousands of individuals, families, schools and groups use it, annually. Despite the lack of financial support from the City or other governmental organizations, the Trust has managed to begin and maintain “free” and donation-based public access to the Preserve property, which was off-limits to the public for 150 years. Thisincludes a handful of low impact, scattered camping areas, a use producing strong revenues and strong word-of-mouth recommendations for potential future Preserve users.
Donations are collected at the main trailhead, visitor center, online and via the mail, as well as from fund-raisers and ongoing donations from a wide variety of individuals and businesses. Since 2008, the Trust has also benefited from thousands of hours from volunteers, as well as in-kind donations of equipment, supplies and technical expertise. Today, the Trust is at its strongest ever financially and structurally, despite sporadic support and often, indifference from the City bureaucracy.
What are the unique resources and features of the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve?
Among other former Navy and often historic facilities, the Preserve includes the 14-acre Naval Ordnance Worker’s Housing Area containing six houses and several out-buildings. Beginning in 2003, the area has become a significant nesting site for ospreys, with from 15-17 nests in the Preserve or nearby sites in the former Naval Shipyard area and mouth of the Napa River.
Rookeries of great blue herons and great egrets located in the Preserve have grown in number, annually. White-tailed kites, red-shouldered and red tailed hawks, great horned owls, western bluebirds and tree swallows nest in abundance.
The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) lists the Naval Ammunition Depot Housing Area, Mare Island Naval Cemetery and the oldest of the former Ammunition Depot buildings, sandstone and brick ammunition storage magazines, as a NRHD District. This area along with three other NRHD Districts on Mare Island make up the Mare Island National Historic Landmark, the National Parks Service’s highest ranking for historic sites in the United States. The Naval Cemetery has been in the news since 2017 because of its deterioration under the management of the City of Vallejo. Unfortunately the Cemetery did not receive an endowment from the Navy for ongoing maintenance; neither did the NAD Housing Area. The entire Preserve is included in the City of Vallejo’s Mare Island Historic District.
There are also extensive open space areas suitable and currently used for low impact camping. There are also a number of
old ordinance magazines that could be used for Preserve revenue generation, such as specialized camping and low-impact
agricultural uses using the consistent temperatures and darkness inside the structures, e.g., such as growing mushrooms and similar ventures.
What did the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve Advisory Board Report released in August 2008 recommend? Why haven’t the recommendations been implemented?
There has also been significant employee turnover related to the bankruptcy and for other reasons. This has led to a lack of consistent understanding of the values and purposes of the Preserve, and how the Mare Island Heritage Trust protects public resources and educates the public about the property and its value.
The Trust has not to date, entered into a short or long term management agreement with the City of Vallejo for the Preserve. However, the Trust has operated the Preserve for more than a decade as previously described. This is a significant problem, because private charitable sources and government grant-making agencies require formal, written agreements for property management between any non-profit and the public agency that owns the property. For example, the Trust is a potential beneficiary of a $200,000 bequeath for maintaining the NAD Housing Area and planning for its long-term use and preservation, but cannot access this funding in the absence of a formal agreement. Several promising private and public grant opportunities have also “come and gone” in the face of no agreement.
This “lack of a contract” with the City has in some ways “come back to bite” the Trust. The Trust was under the impression that, finally, a potential agreement was being developed by the City until only a few months ago. Then in May 2019, a “Request for Qualifications” (RFQ) process was announced. This could bring in an “out-of-town” organization, but without the community base and trust in the Trust built up since 2008. The reasons for this sudden City policy change are unclear, as well as why formalizing how the Preserve is managed is now a priority.
The proposed RFQ process gives the strong impression that the Mare Island Heritage Trust is perceived as under capacity and uncooperative by the majority of the City Council and staff, despite its strong track record. And this situation has led to confusion and conflicts. For example, over the opposition of the Trust and local environmentalists, the City recently initiated spraying in the Preserve in order to reduce fire danger. However, in the view of the Trust, many Preserve users and many local environmentalists, the previously used mechanical means of fuel load reduction was far more environmentally sound and in many cases, much cheaper that the application of expensive and sometimes dangerous herbicides.
Prior to spraying and mechanical removal of vegetation, the City of Vallejo has made no investments in the Mare Island Shoreline Preserve and for more than a decade, de facto blocked the Mare Island Heritage Trust’s ability to receive major grants and invest in the Preserve. In this context, the RFQ process appears to be extremely premature if not outright unnecessary. A proven community-based solution already exists–IF it is allowed to successfully continue, as it has for the past eleven years.