South Bay Salt Ponds

Through the window of an airplane one can see the vibrant colors of San Francisco’s South Bay salt ponds.

From water’s edge this landscape is a place of layered history revealing changing human conceptions of land use over time. It is a site of resource extraction; wilderness preservation; urban infrastructure; and recreation. Here one can also see the first signs of Silicon Valley creeping north up the east side of the Bay.

Commercial salt production began here in 1854. By the 1960’s Leslie Salt was cultivating 50,000 acres of salt ponds around the Bay. In 1978 Cargill Corporation purchased the operation.

Cargill Salt Ponds

Cargill’s Crystallization Ponds

The South Bay Salt Ponds are also the site of the first nature preserve to be created in an urban area of the United States – the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge – established in 1974. This wildlife habitat is expanding. In 2003 the State of California and Cargill entered one of the largest private land purchases in American history, with the state and federal governments purchasing 25 square miles of salt ponds – an area equal in size to Manhattan.

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