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It has been several weeks since the passing of David Yearsley, environmentalist. David dedicated himself to supporting the Petaluma River and our wetlands for over a dozen years. I worked most closely with him from 2000-2003 when he chaired the Petaluma Wetlands Park Alliance (now the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance). The PWPA was ultimately responsible for the polishing wetlands and trails system at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility, and doubling the size of the Petaluma public wetlands to 500 acres. When he left his post at the PWPA, he wrote an article for our newsletter. Here are abstracts:

"I remember distinctly the thrill of being introduced to the environmental art work of Patricia Johanson at a gathering hosted by Janice Cader-Thompson in the fall of 2000, and the realization that the people of Petaluma could benefit in many ways by the construction of treatment wetlands. It was there that I first met the nucleus of activists who would join forces to form the Petaluma Wetlands Park Alliance …We held public meetings and spoke to community groups. We lobbied the city council both publicly and privately. These efforts paid off on Jan. 7, 2002, when the City Council in a dramatic vote, agreed to include the constructed wetlands as part of the new [Ellis Creek] wastewater treatment plant.

"The condition attached to the council's approval was that the outside funding to purchase the land must be found within a year. It was our good fortune to have Grant Davis of the Bay Institute working on our behalf. With the assistance of county Supervisor Mike Kerns, the Sonoma County Open Space District and the California Coastal Conservancy, $4.2 millions in matching grants had been arranged in just six months. Now the struggle became cutting a deal with the land owners to purchase the property at the appraised value, and what a struggle it was … It was (then-city manager Michael) Bierman who was instrumental in finally crafting a deal to acquire Gray's Ranch. The city changed its construction plans to move the wastewater plant onto the parcel, thereby saving millions of dollars. The deal had appeal, and was approved by a unanimous vote of the new council on Sept. 8, 2003. We had a wetland parks, at last …"

This is just one example of the enduring projects David masterminded. He should be commemorated as a quiet-spoken, but very effective advocate for our river and adjacent wetlands, and I shall miss him.

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Shollenberger: Park or dredge spoils site?

Bob Dyer took this photo of the Petaluma River being dredged in November, 2002. The view is from the trail at Shollenberger Park.

By BOB DYER

Published: Friday, November 5, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

Last Modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

Page 2 of 2

The proposed Dutra asphalt plant at Haystack Landing has dominated local news for some time, and final approval of the project will be the subject of a Dec. 14 meeting of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

Testimony before the board has included several names for the area directly across the Petaluma River from the proposed asphalt factory. Is it Shollenberger Park or a "dredge spoils site?" It is both.

The official Petaluma map published by the Chamber of Commerce designates this area as "Shollenberger Park." On the other hand, the Visit Petaluma magazine, published by the Petaluma Visitors Program, on a page titled "Shollenberger Park nature Walk: Self-Guided Tour," shows the area as "dredge spoils ponds."

Here is the story. The Petaluma Creek was upgraded to the Petaluma River by an Act of Congress in June 1959. This qualifies it for periodic dredging funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The location in question has been used for the deposit of spoils from this dredging since a 1975 agreement with the California Department of Fish & Game. Dredging is essential to the navigability of the river channel, and important to the city's economy, but the main channel has not been dredged since early 2003.

According to the Corps, there were 702,000 commercial tons on the Petaluma River in calendar year 2008 (latest figures available). This would certainly qualify it for dredging again, but I am not aware of any such plans, and it would be too late to dredge this year, in any case.

Petaluma created Shollenberger Park in 1995 as part of an earlier agreement with the county, since its original "Shollenberger County Park" was displaced by the Petaluma Marina. Technically speaking, Petaluma's Shollenberger Park is only the park trail while the center of the site continues to be dredge spoils ponds. It is the most widely used park in Petaluma with more than 400 visitors on a typical day who walk, jog and exercise their dogs or simply commune with nature. Since the dredging of the river last occurred almost eight years ago, I would suspect that few of those now enjoying the park are aware of its dual function.

After dredging, rainwater helps freshen the brackish central pond. The spoils consist mainly of mud scooped out from the bottom of the river pumped into the site along with a large amount of water. This mix includes invertebrates and small fish, which leads to a feeding frenzy by wading birds and double-crested cormorants. The spoils add nutrients to an otherwise landlocked pond, and actually benefit the wildlife there.

Shollenberger Park is at the heart of the 500-acre Petaluma Wetlands, which now has more than seven miles of public trails with Alman Marsh toward its northwest and Ellis Creek towards its southeast. More than 200 species of birds have been identified there. Earlier this year, the National Geographic Society established a web page for the Petaluma Wetlands, which can be accessed by going to www.visitredwoodcoast.com. This helps to promote eco-tourism to our city and the revenue that results from it, so everything possible should be done to protect this gem in our midst, and its wildlife. By the way, the website describes Shollenberger as a park and dredge spoils site.

(Bob Dyer is the original Shollenberger Park docent, and now acts as senior docent for the 500-acre Petaluma Wetlands. He is a charter member of the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance.)