Strawberry Creek and Schoolhouse Creek Watersheds
The three-square-mile Strawberry Creek Watershed begins on the western slope of the Berkeley hills with a series of small springs and tributaries, the most prominent being the North Fork and Hamilton Gulch. Strawberry Creek and Hamilton Gulch converge to flow through Strawberry Valley, then through the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) campus. The North Fork joins Strawberry Creek at the eucalyptus grove in the center of the campus. Shortly after this confluence the creek enters the city culvert at Oxford Street and flows underground, west through Berkeley, eventually emptying into San Francisco Bay near University Avenue. Stormwater routing as well as stream culverting and channel confinement have significantly altered the natural drainage courses of the North Fork and Strawberry Creek.Schoolhouse Creek emerges in the Berkeley hills from a number of small springs just south of Codornices Creek and north of Virginia Street. With no real tributaries, Schoolhouse Creek proper begins in the vicinity of McGee and Cedar streets on the flatlands below the hills, forming a one-square mile watershed that extends to the bay. From there the creek runs southwest between Virginia and Cedar streets. Throughout most of its upper and middle courses, the creek is culverted. It emerges for part of the block between Sacramento and Acton streets, above Chestnut Street, and again at Curtis Street. Where it crosses the old right-of-way of the Santa Fe Railroad, now a pedestrian-bicycle trail, a massive buried concrete abutment and culvert hide the creek. The creek eventually passes under I-880 and enters San Francisco Bay.Download PDF map
Flora and FaunaStrawberry Creek historically provided habitat for a seasonal salmon run, several other native fish species, frogs, newts, and other aquatic organisms. Poor water quality, culverting, and powerful storm flows devastated most of these populations. Restoration efforts on the UC Berkeley campus, however, have successfully re-introduced several native fish species. Please see Strawberry Creek – The Making of an Urban Stream.Populations of large mammals such as grizzly bears and elk were decimated long ago, but the remaining Strawberry Canyon wildlands still provide habitat for deer, fox, mountain lions, and other species. Threatened animal species, such as the Alameda whipsnake are known to inhabit the greater Strawberry Creek ecosystem. The corridor from the UC Berkeley campus to San Francisco Bay is largely culverted and restricts access to most organisms–an issue also facing Schoolhouse Creek. For more information on species in Strawberry Creek, refer to the UC Berkeley Strawberry Creek Biological Resources – 2008 Status Report.
Geology and HydrologyPowerful geologic processes, including uplift, earthquakes, and mass wasting, created the Strawberry Creek Watershed. They continue today and will shape the future of the creek and its inhabitants. Strawberry Creek crosses the Hayward Fault at Memorial Stadium, the football stadium on the UC Berkeley campus. The fault is a dominant geologic feature of the campus.Strawberry Creek’s hydrology has been greatly altered by urbanization, primarily an increase in impervious surfaces on the UC Berkeley campus and in the city’s northside and downtown communities. The consequences of urbanization include increased water pollution, decreased groundwater recharge, and flash flows—higher, faster peak flows than those that occurred previously. These same hydrological issues apply to the Schoolhouse Creek Watershed.For a more in-depth look at the geology and hydrology of this area, see the UC Berkeley Strawberry Creek Hydrology Status Report and Watershed Management Plan.
Major IssuesBoth the Schoolhouse and Strawberry Creek watersheds face very similar issues due to their close proximity and characteristics. As they drain primarily urban areas, surface runoff carrying potentially harmful pollutants is an important concern that affects the health of the creeks and eventually San Francisco Bay. These pollutants include fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste, heavy metals, and gas and oil. The creeks also transport a significant amount of litter to the shoreline and the bay, particularly light weight plastic products such as food wrappers and drink containers.Most of Strawberry Creek through the city of Berkeley had been culverted and channelized by the 1930s, disrupting natural flows and damaging aquatic and riparian habitats. By the 1980s the creek water quality was so poor that Berkeley health officials advised against direct contact with the creek because of sewage and chemical contamination. Degraded water quality from over a century of urbanization was one of the main problems that led to the creation of the Strawberry Creek Management Plan in 1987 and subsequent restoration program.
Major Creeks & Waterbodies
The Strawberry Creek Watershed comprises the main branch and many tributaries in the Berkeley hills. The North Fork, Hamilton Gulch, and Strawberry Creek proper drain the UC Berkeley campus, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, and upstream headwaters before converging to form the main branch. Schoolhouse Creek, lying just north of the much larger Strawberry Creek, has no tributaries and is the only creek in its watershed.
Strawberry CreekStrawberry Creek has two main tributaries, the North Fork and Hamilton Gulch. The North Fork flows through the neighborhoods of North Berkeley, its watershed comprising 388 acres bounded by Little Grizzly Peak on the east and Rose Street and the main branch of Strawberry Creek to the south. The main branch flows west toward San Francisco Bay after its confluence with the North Fork. Hamilton Gulch is a smaller tributary in the southeast corner of the watershed and is almost completely natural. A number of small tributaries draining canyons and ravines in the hills join Strawberry Creek and Hamilton Gulch. Stormwater routing and stream channel culverting have greatly altered the natural drainage paths throughout the entire Strawberry Creek Watershed.
Schoolhouse CreekSchoolhouse Creek is almost entirely culverted under the streets of Berkeley with only a few daylighted sections in residential backyards. Originally the creek flowed into the south end of a large, northward-flowing salt marsh and slough that also carried the waters of Codornices and Marin creeks to San Francisco Bay. West of this marsh, low dunes and a crescent of sandy beach curved northwest to Fleming Point. Today, the marsh has been filled, and the creek is channeled into a pipe that drains into the bay.
Major Creeks & Waterbodies
The major creeks of the Codornices Creek Watershed are Codornices, Village, Marin and Blackberry. Codornices Creek is the longest and most open creek in the watershed. Village Creek consists of segments of natural creek, engineered channel, and underground storm drains, with one of the segments of engineered channel designed to function like a natural creek. Marin Creek consists entirely of underground culverts and a series of storm drains. Blackberry Creek and its branches were once tributaries of Cerrito Creek, before being diverted by storm drains.
Blackberry CreekBlackberry Creek has two branches that drain the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in Berkeley and converge at John Hinkel Park and another branch, which is Capistrano. In 1990, a several-hundred-foot stretch of the creek was daylighted and is now a small park in the lower corner of the schoolyard of Thousand Oaks Elementary. Blackberry Creek used to flow through the city of Albany and merge with Cerritto Creek. Capistrano flows through a series of storm drains along Capistrano Avenue and intercepts Blackberry Creek. It now flows into the Marin Creek storm drain which drains to the Albany mudflats, elsewhere called the Albany Mudflats Ecological Reserve.
Codornices CreekCodornices Creek is a perennial creek, which drains its 1.1- square-mile watershed and flows 2.9 miles from its headwaters in the Berkeley hills to San Francisco Bay. It flows through the cities of Berkeley and Albany and is one of the least culverted creeks in the East Bay. The north and south forks converge to form the mainstem at Codornices Park, after which the creek flows downstream through the Berkeley Rose Garden and Live Oak Park. It passes the Ohlone Greenway before crossing under San Pablo Avenue and entering a restored section at 5th-6th streets along the southern edge of University Village. It then crosses under I-80 where it flows into the slough, which feeds a small salt marsh, and drains out into the bay. As Berkeley’s most intact creek, it provides habitat for native rainbow trout.
Marin CreekMarin Creek is a small seasonal creek that originates in the Berkeley hills and travels through the cities of Berkeley and Albany to San Francisco Bay. Most of the creek has been modified and flows through storm drains with a few exceptions below San Pablo Avenue and University Village. A storm drain system catches the flows from Blackberry Creek and Upper Marin Creek and discharges them from an outfall into the salt marsh above Golden Gate Fields. Lower Marin Creek is also known as Village Creek.
Village CreekSeasonal Village Creek, the western remnant of Marin Creek, drains approximately .15 square miles beginning at the intersection of Marin and Peralta Avenues. University of California Berkeley daylighted a 900-foot stretch of the creek that runs parallel to Buchanan Street along the northern boundary of University Village and provides riparian habitat. The creek passes through an engineered channel and a culvert under the freeway, reaching the north-south running slough that empties onto the Albany Mud Flats Ecological Preserve and into San Francisco Bay.
Gilman Street WatershedGilman Street Watershed covers an area of .5 square miles of Berkeley flatlands between the Codornices and Schoolhouse watersheds. It has no creeks or open channels but rather, a network of smaller storm drains that feed a main drain running down Gilman Street to the Bay, replacing the north-running slough and salt marsh that once carried water from Schoolhouse, Codornices, and Marin Creek to the Bay farther north.
West Albany Hills WatershedWest Albany Hill Watershed is very small and is approximately 0.05 square miles (32 acres). It is located adjacent to Cerrito Creek Watershed on West Albany Hill, a prominent hill along the east shore of the bay in the city of Albany. The watershed drains to the bay via gutters and small underground storm drains (less than 24 inches in diameter), which are not shown on the Google Earth watershed map.
San Francisco BayThere are very few marshlands in this area, which historically was mostly edged by sandy beach beyond a north-south tidal marsh fed by these small creeks. Only about 20 percent of the original tidal marshes that once ringed the bay remain. The typical bands of vegetation represented by cord grass, pickleweed, and gumplant, can be found in the fragmentary marsh at the mouth of Codornices, south of Buchanan where it meets the San Francisco Bay.
Publically accessible hiking, walking, and biking trails provide a wide range of recreational opportunities. UC Berkeley offers an interactive map of the recreational areas along the north fork and Strawberry Creek proper. The mouths of Strawberry and Schoolhouse creeks are located in Eastshore State Park, which is managed by the East Bay Regional Park District. The district’s website contains a variety of information on recreational activities in this area.
TrailsA self-guided walking tour created by the University of California, Berkeley covers installations and restorations for more sustainable water management, and illustrates its benefits to Strawberry Creek. The Oakland Museum of California’s Guide to Bay Area Creeks also offers a self-guided walking tour with includes a map and details of key areas along Strawberry Creek.
Parks and Recreation
The Strawberry Creek Restoration Program began in 1987 and coincided with the adoption of the Strawberry Creek Management Plan, which addressed many major issues affecting the creek. Implementation efforts have included point source pollution controls, grade control, stream bank stabilization measures, and riparian and aquatic habitat restoration.A small section of Strawberry Creek (on Allston Way west of Sacramento Street) was daylighted in 1982, creating Strawberry Creek Park. Large chunks of concrete along the northern bank that were once part of the underground culvert underscore the advantages of creek daylighting. The project has been an inspiration for similar projects throughout the country. Restoration efforts are spearheaded by organizations such as the Ecocity Builders, Friends of Five Creeks, UC Berkeley students and staff, and countless volunteers and community groups. A list of information on restoration projects throughout the upper portion of the Strawberry Creek Watershed can be found here.Schoolhouse and Strawberry creeks both drain into the bay through McLaughlin Eastshore State Park. Restoration plans were adopted in 2002 for daylighting the creeks in this area to create a small salt marsh that would also reduce the flood danger in West Berkeley.
There are several volunteer and local community organizations that facilitate volunteer events ranging from general creek cleanups to removing invasive species. These organizations also fund or provide free watershed education programs and resources for residents and teachers in the two watersheds. Please see our list of organizations providing volunteer and educational opportunities for the public.
- Alameda County Clean Water Program
- City of Berkeley Public Works Department
- East Bay Regional Park District – McLaughlin Eastshore State Park
- Ecocity Builders
- Friends of Five Creeks
- Oakland Museum of California’s Guide to Bay Area Creeks
- University of California, Berkeley – Strawberry Creek
- University of California, Berkeley – Environment, Health & Safety