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Bay Area Water Trail could put Hudeman Slough on the map

Hudeman Slough in southern Sonoma County could be featured on the San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail.

Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.

Hudeman Slough in southern Sonoma County is a kayaker's dream, a snaking, secluded tidal path that meanders through the Carneros region and a tapestry of vineyards and ranches.

Given its remote location about 10 miles southeast of the city of Sonoma, the spot exists in relative anonymity, visited mainly by local fishermen and hunters.

That's subject to change with implementation of the San Francisco Bay Area Water Trail, which could feature Hudeman Slough prominently on a map of access points for kayakers and other enthusiasts of non-motorized boating activities.

More than a decade in the making, the water trail is not so much a linear path but a recommended network of places for people to plot a daily or days-long adventure. In concept, it's like the Bay Area Ridge Trail, but with paddles instead of hiking boots.

"The water trail can let people know how to get out into one of the greatest water resources we have in the Bay Area," said Ann Buell, project manager for the California Coastal Conservancy.

The project was authorized in 2006 with the passage of Proposition 84 (the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act), and funded with a $1 million grant.

The Coastal Conservancy, working with a consortium of agencies, has identified 112 sites in the nine-county Bay Area region for possible inclusion in the water trail. Many of the sites have existing services, but others will require upgrades to meet safety and environmental standards, or to provide access for the disabled.

Hudeman Slough is one of four sites in Sonoma County identified by the group. The others are on the Petaluma River, including at the Petaluma Marina, Turning Basin and at Gilardi's Lakeville Marina.

Buell met with representatives from Sonoma County Regional Parks at the slough this week to discuss the site's eligibility.

They were joined by Galli Basson with the Association of Bay Area Governments, which is administering a $500,000 grant program for improvements to the trail's access points.

Sonoma County planners are hoping to tap into that money to help fund the redevelopment of Hudeman Slough.

The site is owned by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and operated by county regional parks, which recently abandoned a policy requiring visitors to obtain a key to the gate because people simply cut the locks.

The boat dock, originally built in 1962, is in forlorn shape, its gangway listing like a drunken sailor. Parts of the aluminum structure have been ripped off by vandals, and the launch itself is often buried under a pile of broken reeds and mud. Portable toilets are no longer an option because they keep getting stolen.

County planners are hoping the redeveloped site will deter future vandalism. The plans include a completely rebuilt dock, a built-in bathroom and possibly camp sites -- with an on-site camp host -- for overnight adventures.

"This creates a gateway to many different experiences in Sonoma County and the Bay Area. Heck, you could go all the way to San Francisco (by boat)," said Elizabeth Tyree with regional parks.

She said the county has already committed to redeveloping the site and has garnered $112,000 so far for initial design and permits. That includes $40,000 in county tobacco funds set aside for Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

She said the county is investigating whether the work is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, have raised concerns about some proposed locations on the water trail posing a threat to wildlife and sensitive vegetation.

Tyree said construction at the slough could begin by early next year, with completion set for summer 2014.

Bill Manzoni, whose home and gravel excavating business borders the slough, said he welcomes improvements to the boat launch, which he said is impossible to use during low tide.

But he said Skaggs Island Road, which leads to the slough and is riddled with potholes, will deter people from visiting the site. And he worries for the safety of kayakers in the waterway.

"It gets narrow in there," he said.

Buell said one goal of the water trail is to improve safety for boaters by making it easier to access the water and providing information about tides and weather conditions.

She said the trail also could protect from unwanted development.

"This is a proactive, preventive measure to protect what exists, and to enhance what exists," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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