Golden Gate Park's Stow and Spreckels Lakes to be Restored

By Peter Sciacca

Stow Lake and Spreckels Lake will be the latest sites to benefit from the Golden Gate Park Master Plan when restoration work begins in October.

Both lakes are plagued by algae overgrowth and a steady increase in the death rate of fish. Sedimentation is another major problem at Stow Lake, where park visitors can rent boats to cruise around the body of water.

"Sedimentation has made Stow Lake very shallow," said John Farley, Golden Gate Park's top maintenance supervisor. "There have been several complaints from visitors that boats are bottoming out at various parts of the lake."

Farley admits that dredging the "nasty material" at the bottom of Stow Lake poses the greatest challenge at either lake.

"It's foul smelling, really messy and tough to handle," he said.

It is easier to dredge a lake after it has been completely drained but only part of the water will be taken from Stow Lake.

"We're not going to empty Stow or Spreckels because we want to safeguard the fish, turtles, birds and other wildlife at these lakes," Farley said. "We will identify the parts of the lake that need dredging the most."

Aside from selective dredging, the partial draining of Stow Lake is also necessary for bank restoration.

"We're going to fill in the areas that have eroded around the lake to restore the original waterline," Farley said.

The lakes in Golden Gate Park are lined with clay to create a bowl that will not leak into the area's naturally sandy soil.

Other improvements at Stow Lake will include the installation of underwater aeration pumps to improve oxygen circulation, and improving access for those with physical disabilities by designating more vehicle parking spaces and installing more wheelchair ramps.

The partial draining of Spreckels Lake will facilitate the removal of the wooden border that rims the lake and creation of a new one.

"This structure acts as a bumper for the model boats that hobbyists run on the lake," Farley said. "An aeration system will be installed at this lake also."

Dan Mauer from the SF Department of Public Works, which is collaborating with park officials on both projects, held a meeting in late August to discuss the renovations at Spreckels Lake with members of the lake's model boat club.

"They wanted to know more about the aeration system and what type of wood the bumper will be made of," he said.

The model boaters are also pushing for the project to include a plan for controlling the amount of birds that loiter at the lake. They say bird droppings have played a large role in the lake's deterioration.

"Some ideas we came up with include posting signs telling people not to feed the birds and cracking down on those who do," Mauer said.

Work is slated to begin in October at Stow Lake. No date has been set for the start of Spreckels Lake's renovations. Both projects are expected to be completed by January.

"Stow Lake needs to be done by Jan. 1," Farley said. "That is when Blue Herons return to the lake for their nesting season."

The combined cost of both projects is $1.5 million, with about 70 percent of funding going toward Stow Lake's restoration. The projects will be funded by state bonds and a bond that San Francisco voters passed in 1992.

A 1994 study of Golden Gate Park's lakes is the foundation of both proposals. The Audubon Society, consultants from an engineering firm called The Bennett Group and an independent biologist assisted DPW and park officials in shaping both drafts.