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Heather Farm Park

Apr 01, 2015 09:14PM ● Published by Jennifer Neys

by Bob Simmons, Walnut Creek Mayor

Heather Farm Park, one of Walnut Creek’s treasures, opened in 1970. At 102 acres, it is our largest park, and with over 1.2 million visitors each year, it is the most active. Over its 45 years, Heather Farm Park has had many changes.

Long before it was a park, the site was known for relaxation. In 1874, a spa opened at the Sulphur Springs Ranch (the property’s underground sulphur spring was considered a cure-all, and it is still the source of the smell of rotten eggs you notice when driving down Ygnacio Valley Road). When the spa failed, John Marchbank converted the ranch in 1921 into a thoroughbred training facility named after his champion stallion, Heather King.  This was the most important horse-breeding farm west of the Mississippi.  In 1931, Clark Gable filmed his first starring role there in Sporting Blood.

In 1965, voters approved a bond measure that provided money for buying 50 acres from John Marchbank’s widow for the future park. The city had previously received a donation of five acres from Philip and Ruth Bancroft, and the Walnut Festival Association provided funds to buy 13 acres for two ball fields. 

Today, it has six ball fields (baseball, softball and soccer), a large aquatics facility, a community center, the Gardens at Heather Farm Park, a 10-court tennis center, an equestrian center with the old “Heather Farm” sign, picnic areas, a basketball area, a dog park, a skate park, two sand volleyball courts, a nature area and a large concrete pond. The Briones-Mt. Diablo Regional Trail goes through the park, and the Contra Costa Canal Trail is adjacent to it. There are 792 parking spaces! In 2010, the city re-designed San Carlos Avenue. This involved the removal of several eucalyptus trees and the installation of stop signs to slow vehicles traveling through the park. 

To commemorate our 75th anniversary, a public art piece called “Strata” was installed. The artist calls it a cross between Shinto shrines and Stonehenge.  To commemorate our 100th anniversary in 2014, with significant community support, the Centennial Grove was created. In 2013, the city replaced some very old plantings near the tennis and swim centers with drought-tolerant vegetation. This reduced water use and maintenance requirements. In 2014, with financial help from the county and the community, the city built the All Abilities Playground, which some describe as Disneyland in Walnut Creek. 

In 2015, you will see the installation of carport solar panels that will produce 512,000kWh of energy (enough for 79 homes), as well as shade for parking.  The city will also change the traffic signalization to separate vehicles making a left turn onto Ygnacio Valley Road (from the neighborhood and from the park) and to improve pedestrian safety.

On March 6, the city issued a request for qualifications for replacing the 40-year old Clarke Swim Center. The city is seeking a partner to participate in the construction, operation, and maintenance of a new aquatics facility at the park.

That’s a lot of change, and Heather Farm Park will continue to change to meet the needs of the community.  The Park, Recreation, and Open Space Commission is considering other possible future uses for Heather Farm and several other parks. What changes do you think will take place in Heather Farm Park in the next 20 years?  

Community Heather Farm Park Bob Simmons
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