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Outdoor enthusiasts seek better access to Petaluma River


Petaluma was built around its river’s resources. Yet over the years, it has grown away from the river, in some cases literally turning its back on what once was a vibrant waterfront.

People walk along the Warehouse District boardwalk along the Petaluma River in Petaluma, California on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011.

Petaluma Water Ways wants to change that. The group, composed of nonprofit and public agencies, property owners and individual volunteers, has injected new energy into a long-dormant river study from the mid-1990s.

River lovers rediscovered the River Access and Enhancement Plan, published in 1996, two years ago, said Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun.

They’ve brought a “renewed energy and spirit” to make the most of the “breadth of opportunities” the Petaluma River offers in its seven-mile stretch through town.

Susan Starbird, a marketing professional and kayaker, became a key volunteer, using her skills at bringing people together and her contacts among the many river users.

“We want to redefine river access as ‘access to the river,’ not just ‘looking at the river,’” she said last week on a tour of various points along the waterway.

Nearly 200 people attended an unveiling Tuesday of Petaluma Water Ways’ “blueprint for action” for more than 30 proposed projects along both sides of the river from the Copeland overcrossing to beyond Shollenberger Park.

The plan identifies more than seven miles of waterfront trail and access points for residents to use the river and surrounding area for walking, cycling, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, boating and painting.

“It’s hard to walk,” Starbird said. “You can walk chunks of it. But what I’m really excited about is putting all of those chunks together you can you walk the whole thing.”

Using the city plan as a foundation, river advocates worked to develop funding possibilities and implementation strategies for short and long-term projects along the river.

They include a seven new put-ins for hand-carried small boats, another public restroom, overlooks and seating at fishing spots. Organizers hope for continuous land- and water trails that are linked to regional bike and pedestrian connectors.

The plan also incorporates plans for a small-craft rental center, an enhanced Steamer Landing Park, a trolley stop near Foundry Wharf and several pocket parks.

Organizers envision river users being able to rent a kayak or pedal boat for an outing or picnic, a water taxi shuttling passengers around the downtown waterfront and a floating boardwalk from the D Street Bridge to neighborhoods downstream.

Funding for the proposed projects hasn’t been identified.

One primary area of focus will be the Turning Basin, lined by decaying railroad tracks and the back of the Golden Eagle Shopping Center, which was developed with most of its stores facing away from the river.

Greg Sabourin of the Petaluma Small Craft Center Coalition, or PSC3, described hopes for a boathouse in the Turning Basin where people could rent various water crafts and explore their boating skills and boating clubs could store their crafts.

A short-term option could be a floating dock, which would require less construction.

“Boats are our missing link in a river town,” he said. “This is something we could get done in the near term.”

The excitement was apparent in the turnout at the open house, Starbird said.

“The question now is, how do we sustain this momentum,” she said. “Because now we really have a sense of how popular it is in the community.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.


email: rtca@starbirdcreative.com

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