CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (July 20, 2023) — John Mercurio speaks beautifully about our corner of the East Bay and why he loves serving on the board of directors for the East Bay Regional Park District.
The trail-lover and consummate volunteer has brought his passion for diversity, family and the world’s trails to the role since being elected in November. His Ward 6 spans Clayton, Concord and the surrounding area from San Ramon to Antioch.
Mercurio gave us an overview of our trails, especially the Black Diamond Trail, in the aftermath of the stormy 2023 winter. He said that damage to Clayton’s trails was “severe” and reached into remote areas that will be hard to clear. The last figure he saw was $13 million in damage for the whole area.
Work is underway in our ward and will be done in phases through the next rainy season. At the time this story was written, the clearing of Black Diamond was on track for the end of July and expected to take just a few days.
Long love of trails
Mercurio has been involved in the district’s parks and trails for at least 35 years. “The first thing I ever volunteered with the district for was to build trails,” he recalls.
When his first daughter was 3 days old, he took her out on a trail. Now his adult children love trails as much as he does.
Once a member of the state Trails Commission and of the no-longer active Diablo Road Runners, Mercurio helped plan the latter club’s running routes. His stamp is all over our trails, clubs and our entire community.
“John’s love of trails and hiking and running will only add to his value as park director,” says Joe Sullivan, Mercurio’s long-time friend and frequent hiking partner. “He’s as dedicated to family as he is to the area and the environment.”
Advocate for diversity
Mercurio is driven by a commitment to diversity, inclusion and shared histories. Informed by his Italian heritage, Mercurio crafts his role around serving a diverse population.
He relates to the frustration many communities experience when people focus on negative stereotypes. Mercurio says that approaching the many cultures of our area in a different way “is attractive to me because I know what it feels like to have everybody always talking about the Mafia … then they forget about the Renaissance.”
He says negative stereotyping affects every group. “Almost every ethnic group has a similar story to tell, where (people outside the group) focus on the negative stuff that’s sensational. So, I do anything I can to even the playing field.”
Mercurio has already begun incorporating indigenous stories and increasing the visibility of indigenous history and culture on the trails.
“Recently, we added trail markers that have the local tribal names,” he says, noting that the district involves tribes in naming and translating trail information.
The importance of the Port Chicago 50
Mercurio lights up when talking about the park in the works at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station. He tells the story of the Port Chicago 50, who fought back against unsafe working conditions. “Fifty Black sailors refused to go back to work unloading ammunition from the ships after a ship blew up and killed hundreds of workers there during World War II,” he relates.
You can tell Mercurio sees this moment of protest as a big part of what makes his ward so special. Struggles like this mean something personal to him. As director, Mercurio sees an imperative to tell stories of racial and class struggle, rippling throughout Concord’s history and including everyone.
The new park will be named after Thurgood Marshall, who took on the soldiers’ case. “We’re trying to honor that legacy of Thurgood Marshall, of trying to help,” Mercurio says with a smile.
He believes this was an important moment in the Black history of Concord and loves the idea of preserving stories like this, as stories of his own heritage have been preserved.
Mercurio is ready to connect our parks to our many local cultures’ individual histories and struggles. He leaves us with one short and clear thought: “When we say, ‘Trails for all,’ we really mean it.”
Vince Martellacci is a somewhat new resident of Clayton who loves to spend time in the town center and in Concord. He represents musicians across the Bay Area in the media when he’s not writing. Contact him at email@example.com.