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Lake Merced
San Francisco's Jewel

by Patricia M. Lee

ake Merced, once described by author Miles Overholt as ‘a jewel that gleams like a star,’ is located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco county, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. The lake provides a natural outdoor recreational setting for the visitor who wants to combine an urban stay with a pastoral site.

Beauty abounds in the region. Eucalyptus and cypress trees border the shores. Fanned by pacific ocean breezes, sailboats float leisurely through the southern part of the lake; fishermen, poles propped, waiting for the trout to bite, dot the northern banks; rowboats settle close to the marshy land.

We were lucky to spot a mama duck followed by a single file of ducklings.

Walkers hike across the wooden bridge and watch the mallards float by. We were lucky to spot a mama duck followed by a single file of ducklings. Bird watchers flock to the nearest hillside with binoculars aloft, observing the movements of the varied bird species. The 4.4-mile trail around the lake beckons hikers and runners to test their endurance and strengthen their muscles.

History buffs can imagine the discovery of this enchanting region when Father Francisco Palou, standing atop the nearby cliff, gazed with wonder over the sparkling waters.

It seemed providential that Father Palou, a member of Don Bruno de Heceta’s party, should arrive on September 24, 1774, the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. So the lake was named in her honor, “Laguna de Nuestra Senora de la Merced.” Legend has it that The Lady watches over this paradise and that during the 1800s, the changing of the waters from salt to clear was due to a miraculous happening. Nonbelievers say it was the result of an earthquake closing off the small passage that allowed the salty seawater to enter the lake.

Two golf courses, Harding and Fleming, attract visitors and locals alike. Golfers enjoy playing the undulating greens amidst the cypress trees on the 18-hole Harding Course. Named as a memorial for President Harding, who died at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel in 1923, the course hosts many professional tournaments. Harding encloses the 9-hole Fleming course named after Jack Fleming, one of the original designers of the Harding course. Golfers find the 7th hole of Fleming truly inspirational as they tee off and watch the ball zoom heavenward in a direct line with the huge white cross standing tall on Mt. Davidson.

Besides using the recreational facilities, many visitors picnic near the path that looks toward the western sky. Sometimes hanggliders appear as varied puffs of colors, sweeping out over the ocean like huge birds. Pausing in mid-air, they descend slowly, gradually disappearing behind the cliffs.

The passing years have brought changes to Lake Merced, but it still glitters like a star as The Lady continues to watch.

Lake Merced: www.sanfranciscodays.com/lakemerced

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Juan Bautista de Anza Graces
Lake Merced

Chester McIntyre photo