Thanks are due to Parks management for reopening public access yesterday to the Open Circle seating area and the rest of the seasonal Burrowing Owl Sanctuary in the northeast corner of the park. The last Burrowing Owl left the area on March 7 this year. In years when Park management is functioning normally, the gates to the area are shut at the start of October, when the earliest Burrowing Owls on record have arrived, and reopened at the end of March, when the last owls on record have departed. In some years, management leaves the gates closed all summer, stirring park visitor resentment and sometimes provoking vandalism on the gates.
The Open Circle stonework offers circular seating for groups of up to two dozen. It’s the only site in the park with this feature. It’s also the prime bird viewing spot on the North Basin. It allows a panoramic view of the water, and is the only spot from which the rip-rap on the northeast corner of the park can be observed. The rocks there have been the seasonal home of Burrowing Owls, and the water’s edge there is a frequent hunting and resting ground for shorebirds.
The fence around this area forms part of the Open Circle public artwork. Its design is inspired by the Art Deco movement. Its array of widely spaced steel cables blends almost invisibly into the background. While of undoubted artistic merit, the fence offers little functionality as a barrier. Humans can easily step over its 32-inch maximum height, and the fence is next to meaningless to loose dogs. They can and do easily leap over or slide through it. As a result, the fence imperils the mission of the area as a seasonal sanctuary for wintering owls. A proposal to modify the fence came before the city’s Arts Commission a year ago, but all further progress came to a halt with the pandemic.