Dumbarton Quarry to Become a New Campground

On the site of the old rock mine there will be a new 91-acre park in Fremont, turning an ugly scar into a pristine park.


Photo courtesy of the East Bay Regional Park District.

The new Dumbarton Quarry Regional Recreational Area will be built in two phases.

There’s a current of excitement racing through Fremont, and the source of that excitement is a giant pit. Situated north of Highway 84, the pit, better known as the Dumbarton Quarry, is nothing special to look at now. But in just two years it will become one of the most unusual campsites in the Bay Area.

In May, officials from the East Bay Regional Park District and elected representatives from Fremont, Newark, and Union City flocked to the Dumbarton Quarry to celebrate the start of a project that will culminate in a shoreline campground outside of Fremont. While the Bay Area is dotted with campsites, this one is special, because it’s the first new one to be built in more than a generation. When finished, it will be a 91-acre regional park, Dumbarton Quarry Regional Recreational Area, with more than 100 campsites, an amphitheater, event center, restrooms, and expansive meadow with panoramic views.

“This is the first new type of development of campgrounds along the Bay Area in decades,” said Ayn Wieskamp, the East Bay Regional Park District’s board member for Fremont.

When the first phase is completed in 2017, the campground will include 63 campsites for recreational vehicles, a playground, picnic area, expanded trails, restrooms, and the outdoor amphitheater. When the second phase is completed in 10 to 12 years, the campgrounds will also feature the meadow of native grasses, 30 car campsites, 17 walk-in campsites, and the event center. The park space will also provide a link between the massive 30,000-acre Don Edwards refuge and the smaller 980-acre Coyote Hills Regional Park.

Dumbarton Quarry Associates, which currently operates in the quarry, has agreed to pay for the park project. According to Wieskamp, the new park is estimated to cost $12 million, but she said this figure could possibly rise in the future. As a bonus, the company agreed to give the park district $10 per truckload of soil delivered to the quarry.

“It’s all going to go toward improvements in Coyote Hills Park,” Wieskamp said. “And we have about $2.3 million at this stage for that.”

The creation of a new park marks the end of an era for the Dumbarton Quarry. The quarry was developed in the 1950s to provide building materials for the Bay Area’s major infrastructure projects. The San Francisco International Airport, Oakland International Airport, and roads and highways all received stone from the quarry. At its peak, the quarry was producing roughly 1 million tons of gravel each year. As a result of extensive usage, the quarry is now 350 feet below sea level—making it the lowest area in all of North America.

Starting in the 1970s, the quarry owners let local officials know they were interested in transforming the pit into some kind of park. The original planners studied the massive quarry and decided to fill it with water to create a new lake. But according to former Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison, this dream ignored some of the basic realities of arid California.

“There’s no place to get water to fill the quarry. Even if you found water, there’s no place to refill it,” he said. “Eventually over a long period of time, it would become like the Dead Sea, just full of contaminants.”

So a more practical plan was adopted to fill the pit and build over it. Over the next 10 to 15 years, 5 million cubic yards of dirt will be dumped into the quarry to raise the land to 50 feet above sea level.

But filling the quarry with dirt posed a new challenge. When the Fremont Planning Commission approved the plan to convert Dumbarton Quarry into a regional park in 2013, local environmental groups like Friends of Coyote Hills expressed concern about the soil slated for filling the quarry. Specifically, they objected to soil from the Patterson Ranch. Once a farm, the ranch’s soil was found to contain traces of roughly a dozen pesticides and insecticides, including toxaphene, a toxic chemical that can cause internal organ failure in humans.

According to Kristie Wheeler, a Fremont planning manager, various concerns expressed by the public were discussed during public hearings and resolved with proposed mitigations. In 2014, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board stated that the presence of pesticides in Patterson Ranch soil wouldn’t threaten human life or groundwater in the area. However, the approval hinged on the soil’s being buried at least 15 feet beneath the completed surface and prohibits the quarry area from using the groundwater. Additionally, any future excavations in the quarry would require the board’s approval to prevent the unearthing of dangerous soil.

Park public information supervisor Carolyn Jones said crews are filling the pit with clean, tested dirt from Bay Area construction sites such as BART extension projects and the San Francisco PUC tunnel. The pit is about half full. Rainwater runoff will be pumped out as the project progresses.

While the project is still in its infancy, Wieskamp has no trouble picturing the pleasure people will get out of the park.

“It will be a chance for people to try tent camping. It won’t be far from home, but it will feel like you are,” Wieskamp said. “You don’t have to go to the Sierras.”

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