MARTINEZ -- Stakeholders and neighbors were close to consensus about the Muir/Hanna grave site at a recent workshop, but ideas still need to be refined.
"We all felt it went really well. We were happy about the level of participation and that there was a willingness to have the non-vehicle access to the site," said Gretchen Stromberg, National Park Service chief of administration and planning.
About 40 people attended the Feb. 22 meeting to share their thoughts with park service representatives who are in the process of determining how much, and what kind of public access is appropriate for the peaceful 1.27-acre Muir/Hanna family grave site property.
Stomberg explained a park management policy is to balance natural and cultural preservation, community sentiment and appropriate public behavior for each park site.
"Whatever we plan do must be 'reasonable and feasible', "Stromberg said before dividing participants into five groups, each with a neighborhood resident representative.
Groups were given a map of the grave site property and encouraged to brainstorm while noting their suggestions on the map, to be shared with everyone later.
The pastoral orchard property contains a huge eucalyptus planted by Muir, is bordered by a stream and located in a secluded residential neighborhood cul-de-sac where children play.
Neighbors were concerned with safety, debris and noise.
"I have two parcels on the cul-de-sac," neighbor Judy Overfield said. "You wouldn't believe the trash that is left after people visit."
"We bought a house there because we wanted to raise our family on a quiet, safe street. I fear they will no longer be safe," another neighbor commented.
Muir descendants Michael Muir and Robert Hanna told the group that they did consider neighbors when the family sold the grave site property to a land conservancy with the intent that it would become part of the John Muir National Historic Site.
"Our family has had an incredible relationship with the National Park Service," Hanna said. "I have no doubt that the NPS will strike that fine balance."
Park Service Superintendent Tom Leatherman was there with about five other park employees who all confirmed their intention to preserve grave site property in a way that is consistent with John Muir's spirit and writings, while allowing the public to absorb the essence of his message there.
Deputy Superintendent Sue Fritzeke noted, "Anything we do there will be with respect and reverence for John Muir."
The park service also allows educational visits, including class trips such as those by Dr. William Swagerty, director of the John Muir Center at University of the Pacific.
Swagerty was worried about providing students with the opportunity to visit John Muir's final resting place.
"I have brought a bus full of students to Martinez eight times. On four occasions we were not allowed to visit the grave site," he said. "No one was available from the historic site (Muir home) to accompany us."
Groups discussed how to handle a large busload of students and Swagerty suggested they could be transported from the Muir home on Alhambra Avenue to the grave site in smaller park service vehicles for an escorted visit.
Then came talk of where to park those vehicles, refuse containers, fencing, to gate or not and if so, where to locate the gate and many other details.
The workshop attracted representatives from a variety of areas: Kathy Ivers, public affairs for Shell Oil Products; Igor Skaredoff, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District board president; and Paul Adler, representing Contra Costa County Supervisor Federal Glover were there.
"Supervisor Glover wanted to make sure we understood the park service plans and how the community felt about it," Adler said.
Jamie Fox, an Alhambra Hills Open Space Committee member attended the workshop because a ridge visible from the grave site below is approved for residential development.
The committee hopes to gather a group of buyers to purchase that property for open space to link trails from Benicia, along the Hulet Hornbeck, Mount Wanda section of the Bay Area Ridge, Briones and canal trails which extends to Black Diamond and elsewhere.
When Stromberg used an 1894 map of the Muir grave site and surrounding family property, Fox said he realized that it is evident that about half of the residential development is on land formerly owned by John Muir.
"This is huge," Fox said. "I don't know if it makes a difference as far CEQA."
Three park service alternative grave site plans will be developed for review, with drafts available for public comment by summer, according to Stromberg. The completed, National Park Service-approved plan is expected by winter 2014 or early 2015, she said.
Reach Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292 about Martinez news.