25th Annual Flyway Festival, One Day Only! Saturday, February 8, 2020. Vallejo Veterans Hall, 420 Admiral Callaghan Lane, Vallejo. Located halfway between Georgia Street and Redwood Parkway (overlooking I-80)

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Article by Myrna Hayes

Last night I drove to the Mare Island Preserve gate, parked and hopped out of the car for a 2-mile walk through the drydocks and industrial area of Mare Island with Nitro. I returned refreshed, still amazed at the massiveness of the buildings, structures, cranes and the ships in drydock, two NOAA research vessels and a cable laying ship with an ungainly superstructure built onto it for threading the cable from the ship to the bottom of the sea, below. I settled in with a cup of tea, so easy to make with a small camp stove and tea pot I always have with me now, like I’ve read about the Brits doing. There’s something about a hot cup of tea that’s a necessity for writing.

And, I had an exciting writing assignment. I was about to share with you, that after cancelling the Flyway Festival in the Fall, due to the City of Vallejo locking us out of the Preserve, we ARE going to host our 25th annual migration celebration founded on Mare Island so long ago. That’s fantastic, if not last minute news, isn’t it?!

Many of you are wondering how the closing of the Preserve indefinitely, following some simple grass fires in early Fall that singed a few dozen trees, led to the cancellation of our beloved Winter party for our wild neighbors. How did the last 16 weeks of confusion, frustration and crushing disappointment, come to be linked with the Flyway Festival? First, the Preserve is not only a nature and cultural history wildlands park we founded and together with you, we’ve funded for 12 years, but it’s 44% of Vallejo’s open space. We’ve counted on it as an integral Flyway Festival public access to and showcase of Bay Area birds from migrating songbirds, to osprey, resident and migratory hawks, turkey vultures and owls, nesting great blue herons and great egrets and endless combos of nature, cultural landscape and history and resplendent scenic vistas of the Bay Area. The Preserve is also the gateway through which our escorted birding and history walks reach the Navy’s Historic Southshore open to the public up until now, only 6 days a year during our festivals. With no revenue generated from the Preserve’s trailhead donations and camping since early Fall, trying to put on a Festival costing more than $10,000 seemed pretty much impossible.

Yet, following our announcement of the cancellation of the Flyway Festival, we and you continued to mourn the loss of our annual gathering headquartered on Mare Island with outings scheduled throughout the region. So, after our cancelation announcement, we did not give up. Through the rest of the Fall and well into this Winter, we have worked to make the pieces fit together on Mare Island. While the City Council sounded very positive in mid December, no matter what we did, we were thwarted at every turn, by senior City staff, the Nimitz Group and even the Mayor, who said there was just nothing he could do. By this past Tuesday afternoon, we received “absolutely not” letters and phone calls from all parties.

Still, we would not give up! Late Tuesday evening, just before Council meetings in American Canyon and Benicia, we reached out to leaders in these communities for support. The Mayor of Benicia and her team, who wanted badly to support us, had no venues on such short notice. Within minutes following the American Canyon City Council meeting, we had received an immediate offer of a facility. And, we researched a little around Vallejo. With a few phone calls and site visits, we located the Vallejo Veterans Memorial Hall. The hustle paid off! The good news: WE WILL HOLD OUR 25TH ANNUAL SAN FRANCISCO BAY FLYWAY FESTIVAL!

It’s coming right up on our traditional 2nd weekend in February. Plan to attend regional and Mare Island outings Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as usual. Friday, February 7, 2020 join us for our traditional opening reception in the evening from 5-9pm around a splendid old bar at the Veterans Hall. You’re going to like the Hall, a lot. After decades of questionable power, freezing cold winds blowing through old barns and porta potties, you will agree that we deserve this upgrade with glistening bathrooms and glowingly polished floors and heat. Yes!

Return to the Veterans Hall just off the I-80, for a one day, Saturday, February 8, ONLY, Wildlife Expo Exhibit with many of our traditional Flyway Festival attractions. It’ll be different; life sure can be convoluted. Still, it will be good, won’t it, to come together for our migration celebration once, again.
Through it all, I’m reminded, of the resilience of nature. I’m imaging how our wild neighbors from the north and those who live here amongst us, are constantly adapting and living their lives one glorious and wild day at a time. I’m thinking that they too, are under siege as we we experience it, but for them, it is another morning of foraging, another moment of rest, another day in flight, another evening meal, another night in which to find shelter.

I’m reflecting too, on an amazing journey I ended up making last night. While I sipped tea and wrote about the Festival, a car drove up to the closed Preserve gate. It sat there for a very long time, then slowly inched backwards, only to return to the gate, then backed and turned around. I was curious. I walked up to the car and asked the driver, a slight, older woman if I could help her. She said she was lost. I get that. Lots of people end up at the end of that road, disoriented about where they are and unable to find their way back to civilization! To make a kind of long story short, I escorted Ann to her home close to the town of Bodega. She followed me across the 37, up the 101, through the 20 or more miles, I imagine if winding roads, ultimately ending up according to my phone directions, because her phone was dead and she had no charger for it, at the entrance to her driveway. She got out of the car, hugged me, I gave her a Mare Island Preserve brochure, wrote my name and circled my phone number, and she said, “I think my car will know its way home from here. My 2 kitties will be very happy that I have returned home.”

Nitro and I headed for the ocean, just 10 miles, further. We felt we deserved to at least smell the ocean. As a bonus, we were serenaded most of the way with the voices of frogs so loud, we could hear them through the car windows. We’ve been missing our frog choruses at the Preserve. Few can fathom the loss of silence and the equal loss of the sounds of nature that lull my soul in my chosen personal place of peace.

What I have learned in the last months, weeks, days and hours, is this: we are invited, no matter our anguish and sorrow over the losses of our nature connections, to, inspired by that same compelling nature, find in its presence, a reason to go on. To find a place to feed and rest and find shelter. Our wild visitors from the distant north remind us of the seasons. They show us that there is no option to turn back. They fly on. We glimpse them in their fleeting moments with us. They inspire us to care for our own flock, too, don’t they? In our communing with the wild, with the migrating, we find the momentum to press on on our own urgent journey within and without. I invite you to experience for yourself and with others, some of the “north shore” of San Francisco Bay’s wilderness: the “wild near us”. Join me, will you?

I’m asking you to do one and/or two more things to help us stay aloft as the host of the Flyway Festival and the founder and funder of the Mare Island Preserve. Your signature on our petition and sharing it asking others you know to sign, will continue to help us send a clear message to our elected representatives. Simple. Work with us, instead of against us. Open the Mare Island Preserve Now! Sign and share this petition. http://chng.it/wtqYqngM

You can help is underwrite the Flyway Festival and our “Preserve the Preserve” campaign when you make a donation (PayPal.me/mareislandheritage) so that both the Flyway Festival and the Preserve as they have been up until now, will be, Forever Free!