Cortese: Day on the Bay goes virtual with boat tour of  wetlands
Residents explore the bay during Day on the Bay in Alviso in this file photo. Photo courtesy of Supervisor Dave Cortese's office.

For 10 years, I have been privileged to bring diverse groups of residents together on a sunny autumn day to connect with vital resources, enjoy local entertainment and fun activities, ride in kayaks, pick out pumpkins and savor free food at Alviso Marina County Park.

As with many traditional and annual events, the Day on the Bay multicultural festival and resource fair will not happen this year because of coronavirus, and I will miss it.

I’ve been riding my bike to  the festival since we launched Bike to the Bay, an 8.5-mile community ride along the Guadalupe River Trail in 2016. Upon arrival, I would walk through the park greeting guests, taking in the sights and sounds, and reflecting on how lucky I am to live in this beautiful place with these wonderful people.

I found especially rewarding that the festival’s resource fair was focused on health. Our guests received free flu shots, vision and hearing screenings, blood pressure checks and lots of information about services and programs in the County and elsewhere.

We can’t gather this year, but we can explore the Alviso waterway and its unique ecosystem through a new virtual Day on the Bay boat tour — an actual day on the bay.

When I knew, for the safety of our community, we couldn’t produce Day on Bay this year, my office teamed up with the County Parks and Recreation Department to offer a video tour that simulates the educational experience the county has been providing to school children through the South Bay Boat Tour Field Trip Program that I initiated in 2015. In 2018, we began offering the tour from a boat that can hold 30 passengers.

On Oct. 11 we launched the virtual Day on the Bay boat tour with visitors from across the county climbing aboard. The tour is guided by county park staff interpreters, Luke and Rachel, who talk about the history of the area and the people who lived there thousands of years ago, the plant life, the wildlife and the impacts of humans on the wetlands.

The video tour starts from the Alviso Marina County Park from a dock that was installed in 2008, opening up access to the Alviso slough and the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Traveling through the salt marshes of the Alviso Slough, you’ll see the shore alive with dozens of species of plants that provide the habitat for birds, harbor seals and even two endangered species: the Ridgway’s Rail (formerly the California Clapper Rail) and the Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse. Those two inhabitants feed on pickleweed, a plant that only grows in the marshes of the wetlands.

I don’t want to give away all the details of the tour of the Alviso Slough, which is the South Bay’s entry into the waters of the San Francisco Bay and a stop on the San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail. I invite you to find out for yourself  at any time from any device by visiting www.tinyurl.com/VirtualDOB.

The video tour will be shared with teachers from all around the county to provide students with firsthand exposure to the bay, its wildlife and its connection to our local communities, while providing lessons on the impacts of climate change.

I hope you will join the tour and then plan an actual trip to the Alviso Marina County Park, which,  besides boating, also offers hiking and biking along boardwalks, pathways and trails. Together, let’s spend time figuring out how we can be the best environmental stewards of these magnificent wetlands.

Dave Cortese serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

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