Petaluma Parks: Denman Reach open space hides in plain sight
One of the largest slabs of open space inside Petaluma’s city limits is also one of its lesser-known public parks, effectively hiding in plain sight between two of the busier streets in town. The 24.7-acre Denman Reach Open Space area, a patchwork assemblage of parcels linked together along a narrow stretch of the Petaluma River, has one small trailhead parking lot on Industrial Way, just north of Corona Road. Tucked in beside the parking lot of the Straus Family Creamery, the trailhead lot is unpaved, with room for only about a dozen cars.
If it weren’t for that lot, and the somewhat blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sign visible to drivers or cyclists approaching Corona, it would be easy to miss the fact that there is anything there to stop and see.
And frankly, most people do.
They miss that fact.
Truth is, aside from the Petaluma River Trail - which here stripes its way across Denman Reach space via a partially-paved pathway running from Corona Road to just before N. Petaluma Boulevard (within view of Denny’s and Henny Penny Restaurant) – there isn’t much at Denman Reach. Beyond that walkway, a few interpretative displays pointing out flora and fauna and ecological purposes of flood plains, the main attraction is some rather sweeping views of the river corridor.
Those views, for what it’s worth, are plenty.
On a pair of recent visits - one in the mid-morning, the other in late afternoon - the clouds stacking up over the trees that line the river bank give the spot a feeling of massiveness and remote solitude that is remarkable. Especially given that Denman Reach is within skipping distance of the boulevard, a string of automotive sales lots, several industrial complexes and Highway 101, the sounds from which tend to blend ominously with the soft, persistent grumble of wind in the treetops.
The place certainly seems to be popular with dog-walkers, who clearly enjoy the lengthy pathways moving into and out of various groves of trees. On the northern end of the open space known as Phase Three and Four of the Denman Reach water conservation and river restoration project, the pathway spills into a large wetland expanse recently crafted to serve as flood storage during rainy weather. In addition to a gravel path that moves parallel to the river, there is a network of gently implanted trails that weave in and around the low shrubs and sometime seasonal pools of water.
Connecting the pathways that run from Corona Road to the trailhead and the phase three/four wetlands is a wide, concrete walkway that runs for a fair distance behind Straus Creamery and the Farmer’s Insurance building.
All together, end to end, it makes for a flat, easy walk or ride, with occasional tangential paths out to Industrial Way, or down to the river. On recent visits, it appeared that tents had been set up near the river by shelterless folks willing to risk rapidly rising waters should rain fall in any serious amount.
Back at the trailhead, a pair of dog-walkers are silently trading places near a bench overlooking a green-and-light-brown field bursting with small ground flowers, one heading back to the lot as the other remotely locks their car and heads, out, happy dog straining at its leash, toward the trail. As the humans pass each other and nod, they seem to be saying, “So, you know about this place too?” and the obvious answer, “Yes. Yes I do. Aren’t we lucky?”