Planners with San Francisco's Presidio said they are nearing completion on the long-awaited project that will cover a pair of traffic tunnels at the National Park's northern edge with a 14-acre park featuring spectacular views and an epic kids play area.
The Presidio Trust, which is shepherding the tunnel top project, said it expects to open the new park sometime in the spring, completing the transformation of the unsightly Doyle Drive elevated roadway into a sleek parkway blanketed with stunning nature-infused open space.
"It’s just incredible," said Michael Boland, the Presidio Trust's chief park planner. "It’s like being in the wilderness right in the middle of the city."
The final lap of work on the park includes plantings of trees, shrubs and grasses, and building out a 2-acre kids "outpost" that will include play structures created from rocks and boulders, along with an arts and science lab and a field station, modeled after the kind of facilities used by scientists for exploration.
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The field station will host classes and workshops and will serve as an interpretative center for young people to explore.
"It’s a place that’s going to allow kids to be kids, where they can be fully immersed in nature and at the same time play," said senior project manager Rania Rayes.
From a utility perspective, the park is meant to connect the Presidio's upper parade grounds to Crissy Field below, allowing visitors to walk between two areas of contrasting topographies.
But the larger scope of the project is to craft a wide open nature space from scratch where visitors can picnic, explore and take in some of the Bay Area's best views.
"It is going to be one of the most interesting places for the public to visit in the Presidio and, frankly, in the Bay Area," Boland said.
The park will include a mixture of native and other plants near the lower bayside end to mirror the scrappy coastal greenery of Crissy Field, while the upper grounds will echo the more formal plantings of the former military base-turned park.
"I hope they understand that nature, even if it’s scruffy, not necessarily manicured, is beautiful," Rayes said.
The new park, which was funded by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, features amoeba-like driftwood benches shaped from cypress trees that have either fallen or had to be removed in the Presidio. The benches were shaped to mimic the hills of Marin serving as backdrop.
"Trees which made the Presidio so beautiful for 150 years," Boland said. "It’s like a second life. They’re reincarnated as benches and picnic tables."
Boland stood on a massive camp fire pit carved from stone that will host interpretative programs. A short distance away, a graduated terrace with flattened levels hugged a slope where visitors can spread picnic blankets and take in vast views of the bay and Golden Gate Bridge without realizing they're picnicking over a busy Presidio parkway.
"Terrace seating is really the crossroads," Boland explained. "It’s where all the paths converge. It’s where people coming from the top of the tunnels, coming to Crissy Field will move down the slope."
From the top of the terrace, Boland paused to take in the sweeping views that included the Palace of Fine Arts, Alcatraz, Marin, and the Golden Gate Strait and its famous bridge.
It was perhaps a bit of irony that the park's most spectacular feature was the one element that no one had to build or design.
"It’s the best view on earth," Boland said. "And the beautiful thing is everyone’s going to get to enjoy the best view on earth."