Photo of a bird enclosure with a man-made pond in the middle, with a geodesic dome cage and Lake Merritt in the background.

About the Rotary Nature Center

Photo of the entrance of the Rotary Nature Center interpretive museum

The Rotary Nature Center at Lake Merritt was built in 1953 with funds donated by the Rotary Club. It houses the City of Oakland’s naturalist programs. 

Free guided walks are offered regularly and open to the public. We also offer interpretive programs for classes and other private groups.

The Rotary Nature Center is also an interpretive museum with various interpretive exhibits and educational displays, a working observation beehive, and freshwater viewing ponds.

It is a place where Oakland’s citizens can learn about the history and ecology of Lake Merritt, and how to be friends to all the species that live in the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge.


History of the Lake Merritt Wildlife Refuge

Photo of an American coot, a black bird with a white bill, standing on a black barrier in the water

Lake Merritt is a natural body of water, thought to have formed at the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago. It is actually not a lake, but a tidal estuary, where fresh water from the hills and saltwater from the bay meet, protected from the full force of the sea.

In 1870, Oakland Mayor Samuel Merritt passed a law that protected the birds and other wildlife in this beautiful tidal estuary, making it the very first wildlife refuge in the United States. This area was also registered as a National Landmark in 1963.

Although Lake Merritt has been heavily modified by humans, it remains a functional ecosystem to this day.