The Pacheco Marsh Public Access and Recreation Project area is seen in this Google satellite image. The John Muir Land Trust is looking to restore the 247-acre property it helped purchase in 2001 to its natural state. (Google image)

A fundraising campaign is underway for a salt marsh restoration effort near Martinez that a preservation group sees as an educational opportunity to help improve the ecology of the Contra Costa County shoreline.

The John Muir Land Trust, a Martinez-based nonprofit that acquires and oversees open spaces, ranch lands and shorelines in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, has in hand about $4 million of the $5 million it needs for work on the Pacheco Marsh Public Access and Recreation Project.

It is the first phase of a total $24.5 million project to restore the entire marsh to its natural state after decades of human impact.

Pacheco Marsh is a 247-acre area south of the Suisun Bay shoreline north of Waterfront Road east of Martinez. It was purchased in 2001 by a partnership of the land trust, the East Bay Regional Park District and the Contra Costa County Flood Control District.

Surrounded on the east and west by vital, healthy salt water marshes, Pacheco Marsh has itself been “diked, drained and partially filled in” over decades of industrial use, including aggregate mining, said Linus Eukel, John Muir Land Trust’s executive director.

“It really has been through the wringer,” Eukel said.

Nevertheless, Pacheco Marsh is still home to 10 “special status” plant and animal species rare enough to elicit special consideration, including the salt-marsh harvest mouse, Ridgway’s rail, Suisun song sparrow and delta tule pea.

“It’s got a lot of potential, but it also needs a lot of work,” Eukel said.

There’s a plan for that work, called the Lower Walnut Creek Restoration Project. Paul Detjens, a senior civil engineer with the Contra Costa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, said his office has been working to get permits needed to do the first grading work to restore the marsh.

“We look at it like we’re remodeling the home for these rare creatures, and do it while they’re still there,” Detjens said this week. Securing those permits, he said, is a tedious process.

The Marathon Petroleum Corporation, since 2018 the owners of the Marathon Martinez Refinery just south of the marshland, recently spent $4 million to buy the northernmost 18 acres, and then gave it to the John Muir Land Trust, Eukel said.

Work on the public access and recreation segment of the Pacheco Marsh project could begin this fall, Eukel said, though the current COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic could affect the timeline. The marsh is not yet open to the public.

Time is of the essence, he said, as the main restoration work must be completed before sea levels rise too much. That window, he added, is probably a few years.

More information on the project and restoration can be found on the John Muir Land Trust’s website or on the Contra Costa County website.