Lake Merritt is 3.4 miles in circumference, covering 155 acres of land. The depth varies based on the amount of water filtering in from the estuary and the amount of rainfall. There are several parks and amenities nearby that you can enjoy including:
- Green space at Snow Park
- Abundant wildlife at Rotary Nature Center
- Lakeside Gardens
- Fitness area and baseball diamond at Eastshore Park
- Jogging path along the Cleveland Cascades
- Athol Tennis Courts
- Kayaks for rent at the Lake Merritt Boating Center
- Visit the Main or Lakeview Library
- Children's Fairyland
Lake Merritt is a tidal slough that is part of the San Francisco Bay.
In 1869, Dr. Samuel Merritt donated 155 acres that included the headwaters of "Indian Slough" and money to build a dam at the 12th Street Bridge, across the "neck" of the inlet. This created the present day lake. It became known as "Merritt's Lake" and later as Lake Merritt. The flow of tides was limited to pipes and culverts.
In 1925, Lake Merritt's Necklace of Lights was lit for the first time during the Dons of Peralta Water Festival. The Necklace of Lights has 126 lampposts, each given by an organization or an individual along with 3,400 pearly bulbs. The Necklace of Lights was illuminated every night until 1941 when World War II blackout conditions were enforced.
Measure DD projects starting in 2012 freed the Lake Merritt channel, removing culverts that limited the flow of tides into the Lake.
Lake Merritt comes from a wide, tidal estuary (salt water marsh) that was known as the Laguna Peralta. The Pacific Flyway has remained a sanctuary and stop-over for thousands of migratory birds.
Dr. Merritt declared the lake a National Wildlife Refuge in 1869. On March 18th, 1870, Lake Merritt became the first protected wildlife refuge in America. The dam was built to regulate the tidal water flow and increase the water level.
In 1915, organized feedings of the wild ducks began. 10 years later, the first bird island was built, with an additional four islands added in 1956. These artificial islands house hundreds of egrets, herons, Canada geese and many other species of birds. Two of the islands have fresh water ponds. To ensure that marine sports and boating activities based at Lake Merritt don't disturb the birds, a boom blocks access to the five islands during nesting season.
Lake Merritt, home to large breeding populations of herons, egrets, geese and ducks, is the oldest wildlife refuge on North America. Countless migratory birds make the lake their home during the winter months. Lake Merritt is a great place for beginning birders to get up-close views of many species, including the incredibly tame black-crowned night herons, snowy egrets and hundreds of scaups! The birds shown below are water-birds that you are virtually guaranteed to see on the lake in the winter. From time to time, brown pelicans and great blue herons make an appearance on the lake. Occasionally, strange and exotic birds such as Egyptian geese and Mandarin ducks make an appearance in the nature center as well. There are sightings of less obvious winter visitors too. A single female tufted duck lived near the lake throughout the winter of 2002. Other winter visitors include gadwalls, common and red-throated loons, Eurasian and American wigeons, pintail ducks, wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, white-eyed scoters and surf scoters.
Photos provided by Dianne Fristrom.