If youâ€™re looking for an Earth Day celebration on Gay Standard Time, Splash Pad Park (near Oaklandâ€™s Grand Lake Theater) is holding its event 24-hours late, from 9am to noon on Sunday, April 22.
Splash Pad Park is home to one of the East Bayâ€™s most celebrated farmers markets, the Grand Lake Farmers Market, and Saturdays are sacred. To do anything other than welcome the California growers, cheese mongers, bee keepers, butchers, fisherman, jewelers, potters, food trucks, kettle corn poppers, musicians and the droves who come to sample their wares among its palm-lined walks and native plant garden beds would be sacrilege.
Thatâ€™s not to say that the parkâ€™s guardian nonprofit, the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum (SPNF), is thumbing its nose at Earth Day - only postponing it. Last weekend, SPNF founding member Ken Katz snuck up behind me with a pamphlet and said I couldnâ€™t take pictures of the gardens unless I promised to help weed. His mouth was laughing, but his eyes were dead serious. With all our late spring showers, these people need help weeding.
The transformation of the park from a derelict health hazard into its current grassy hillocks and tree-lined walks with its star farmers market is a triumph of neighborhood action. Katz told me the park was originally the north end of Oaklandâ€™s Lakeside Park. When 580 was built early in the 1960s, the new overpasses chopped it off from Lake Merritt. So the city installed palm trees and fountains with concrete basins to give the park its own life, naming it Splash Pad Park. Cut off from Lakeside Parkâ€™s resources, it eventually fell into disrepair. Katz said by the 1990s, the only one using the park was a homeless man who named the rats living with him amongst the weeds and litter.
When plans were introduced for a national retailer to redevelop the space, neighborhood activists organized to preserve the park and bring in a market of local food producers and craftspeople instead. They hired Walter Hood, the UC Berkeley environmental design professor now famous for reclaiming abandoned urban spaces and for designing the grounds surrounding the new De Young Museum. When Hoodâ€™s Fountain Wall went on the chopping block as City redevelopment money ran out, individuals from the neighborhood donated the $50,000 needed for the water feature.
And when Oakland warned that it wouldnâ€™t have the funds to maintain the space, the neighborhood through SPNF agreed to maintain the park in perpetuity.
â€śIn perpetuity lasted about four years,â€ť Katz laughed, noting that the community is very supportive until he needs volunteers to weed.
The market is growing and all the local organic celebs of the Bay Area farmers market circuit make themselves at home here: Happy Boy Farms whose farmers popularized â€śspring mixâ€ť salad; the Waffle Mania truck, whose driver and chef Alain Dupont hearkens from Belgium; Kassenhoff Growers, whose organic tomato seedlings are chosen to thrive in our climate; and more. This Earth Day, grab a trowel and support Splash