Palo Alto purchased 40 acres of marshland in 1921. Nine years later a plan was submitted to add and reclaim land and to develop the baylands into a multipurpose recreation area with a saltwater swimming pool (now the Duck Pond), a municipal airport, a yacht harbor and clubhouse, a basin for seaplanes, a game reserve, and areas for playgrounds, picnic grounds, and a golf course. In the 1960s the plan changed when a citizens' committee recommended that the Baylands become park land. This became a reality in 1968. Since then, the Nature Interpretative Center, the Mundy Marsh, the Renzel Wetlands, and Byxbee Park Hills have been added to the Preserve. The Yacht Harbor closed in 1986, and the harbor master’s cottage was converted into a ranger station.
Although the park is affectionately called The Baylands, its official name is John Fletcher Byxbee Recreation Area. Byxbee was a member of Palo Alto High’s first graduating class and earned a degree in Civil Engineering in 1902 from Stanford. In 1906 he became Palo Alto’s city engineer, a position he held until 1941. His vision and his guidance led to the concept and the purchase of bay land for recreational use. The latest addition to the Baylands Nature Preserve, Byxbee Park Hills (Art Park), bears this visionary's name.