OAKLAND -- The multimillion-dollar push to restore Lake Merritt and reconnect it to the bay is already paying major dividends for wildlife and soon will do the same for people.
Oakland officials and a flotilla of kayaks Friday celebrated the recent removal of a dam and culverts at 12th Street that had choked off the lake from the bay for more than 144 years.
With those barriers gone, the lake's waters will be healthier for fish and birds and less prone to stinky early summer algae blooms, said Joel Peter, who managed the project for the city.
A bigger celebration is being planned for June celebrating the completion of the entire $47 million project to add amenities, restore marshland and improve access
Much of the work is already done. Crews have replaced the 12-lane road that zipped cars along 12th and 14th Streets with a narrower six lane, tree-lined road.
That road, between the lake and the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, made space available for a¿ 4-acre park that will be completed in the next couple of months, Peter said.
The park, along with a soon-to-be-opened bicycle and pedestrian bridge, will make it easier for cyclists and joggers circling the lake.
Also scheduled to open soon is a new pathway and restored marshland along a portion of Lake Merritt Channel, which connects the lake with the shoreline. The path will link the lake to 10th Street but is slated to eventually
"I think this whole walk is going to be a Bay Area destination that everyone is going to love," Mayor Jean Quan said.
Lake Merritt was formed in 1869 when Samuel Merritt built the dam at 12th Street. Over the years, the adjoining channel was narrowed by new developments.
In 2002, city voters approved Measure DD, which included more than $88 million to restore the flow of water to the lake and revitalize large portions of it.
The current $47 million project, which includes state and federal grants, is under-budget, but a couple of years late primarily because of a failed lawsuit that sought to preserve about 200 trees slated for removal.
Additional bond-related projects, scheduled to be completed within the next three years, will remove additional culverts to further improve water quality and extend the walking path along the channel beyond Interstate 880.
The city still needs to find money to extend the channel walk over the railroad tracks west of the freeway and connect it to the shore.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.