The Living Shoreline Project
The Living Shoreline at Cooley Landing

The Living Shoreline Project is a community engaged land art installation at Cooley Landing in East Palo Alto, CA. The meandering line of dark green plants is a living art installation, planted by local community members, to mark the old shoreline of San Francisco Bay.

From 1932 to 1960, San Mateo County used the wetlands of Cooley Landing as a dump site. The garbage landfill created the peninsula of land there today (click here for more information about the history of Cooley Landing). Using historical maps and current satellite images, artist Linda Gass located the old natural shoreline on the present day landscape. Youth and adult volunteers then joined her to create this installation using the California native plant, Juncus patensJuncus is drought tolerant and adaptable to meadow or wetland environments. Like all shoreline communities, Cooley Landing is vulnerable to sea-level rise. Juncus mitigates the impact of sea-level rise by acting as a sponge to absorb rising tides and it filters pollution from storm run-off.

Originally conceived by Gass as a temporary installation during a Creative Ecology Art + Science Residency through the Palo Alto Art Center and Junior Museum and Zoo; the Juncus plantings were done in partnership with restoration non-profit Grassroots Ecology.

Original Temporary Land Art Installation (left) and Living Shoreline Installation (right)

Left: Original temporary land art installation made from blue plastic survey whiskers (Photo credit: Joel Bartlett) and right: The Living Shoreline Project (Photo credit: Linda Gass)

Isolated greenhouse for growing Juncus to prevent spread of phytopthora

To help stop the spread of the devastating soil pathogen phytopthora, the Juncus seedlings we planted were grown in sterilized soil in an isolated greenhouse.

Showing group of high school students the research behind the Living Shoreline Art Installation

We engaged local high school students to participate in the planting through the San Mateo County YESS Program. Their visit to Cooley Landing included a three-part curriculum where they learned about restoration ecology, the impact of sea-level-rise, and how art and science come together in the Living Shoreline land art installation.

San Mateo County High School students planting Juncus

San Mateo County High School students planting Juncus seedlings wherever there is an orange flag. Once planted, a blue flag is placed next to the Juncus seedling.

Color coded landscape flags show where Juncus have been planted

We left many of the blue plastic survey whiskers from the temporary land art installation in place when the Juncus plants were still small so that people wouldn’t step on them. Newly planted seedlings are marked with blue landscape flags and the orange flags indicate where new plantings will go. (Photo Credit: Joel Bartlett)

Short video (9 secs) of community members planting Juncus that was dug up from the site, divided and transplanted.

Newly planted Juncus seedlings with blue landscape flags

The next three photos show how the Juncus have grown over time. This photo shows the seedlings when first planted in February 2017 (Photo credit: Herb Moore)

Juncus after 5 months

Just 5 months later in July 2017, the Juncus have grown quite a bit Photo Credit: Joel Bartlett

After 1 year, in February 2018, the Juncus are taller and fuller

After 1 year, in February 2018, the Juncus are taller and fuller

Juncus at Cooley Landing looking dry from three years of drought.

After 3 years, the Juncus have grown to over 2 feet in height and have spread out. This photograph was taken in June 2021 and the Juncus are showing stress from the prolonged drought.

Interpretive Sign for The Living Shoreline

We created interpretive signs for The Living Shoreline installation in English and Spanish so that visitors to Cooley Landing can have a better understanding of what they are looking at.

Removing weeds around the Juncus at Cooley Landing.

The Living Shoreline grows and looks better when weeded so we organize community events from time to time to keep it looking defined and healthy.

Members of the Palo Alto AKAs weeding around the Juncus at Cooley Landing

We’re grateful that the Palo Alto Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority has adopted Cooley Landing as their community service site. They’ve done great maintenance work on The Living Shoreline Project.

Drone image of a community maintenance work-day on the Living Shoreline

Drone image of a community maintenance work-day on The Living Shoreline Project (Photo credit: Joe Pasqua)

Living Shoreline installation is visible from space as seen in this  Satellite Image

The Living Shoreline installation is visible from space! This is a recent (2020) satellite image of Cooley Landing.