OAKLAND (KGO) -- It's a wildlife refuge, a recreation hot spot, and a civic treasure.
Oakland's Lake Merritt is called the jewel of the city. The heart-shaped 140-acre lake is located smack dab in the middle of town. It has served as a civic gathering place for generations of Oaklanders - a spot for celebration, community, and protest.
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"It's a meeting place for all different types of people, from across ethnic backgrounds and religious backgrounds," said James Robinson, executive director of the non-profit Lake Merritt Institute. "It's a very therapeutic place to be. A lot of people are actually referred here by hospitals to get natural healing."
Robinson's institute is dedicated to keeping the Lake clean and vibrant for the wildlife that call it home. He said it hasn't always been that way.
The lake saw years of neglect and pollution - something his organization has help reverse through volunteer clean-up events that draw both locals and visitors.
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"It was declared the oldest wildlife refuge in 1870," Robinson said. "It's an amazing place where we can get inner city children come down, see nature, and experience it -- sometimes for the first time."
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DRONEVIEW7: Volunteers help Lake Merritt sparkle as the crown jewel of Oakland