Petaluma River at the heart of the city

Petaluma’s history is closely entwined with that of the river that runs through it.|

Petaluma’s waterfront is bustling again. Restaurants along the banks of the river offer outdoor seating that encourage their patrons to take in the view of the calm water and its wildlife. Residents can be seen walking along the paths that border the river and weave near downtown businesses.

The 13-mile tidal slough that flows through Petaluma and feeds into San Pablo Bay was deemed a river by a 1959 act of Congress, thus enabling it to receive federal funding to cover the expensive process of dredging.

Like the city it was named for, the Petaluma River has seen plenty of changes over the years. Though muddy in color, the river is an eye-catching feature that is a point of pride to the people and businesses of Petaluma.

The city was built around the river, providing a lifeline to move people and goods by steamship to San Francisco.

After the advent of rail, and later automobiles, the river was ignored for decades. No longer used to ship cargo, the river became a dump site for garbage. Its wildlife deteriorated, leaving the river saddled with neglect. It was a far cry from the busy waterway it had been more than 100 years before.

During the 1970s, Petaluma began to re-evaluate the river’s value and use. The Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce vowed to improve the river in order to benefit the city’s downtown businesses. The city’s goal stated, “The river should be a place of activity and a source of open space and vistas for all Petalumans.”

Events like the Petaluma River Festival in the 1980s attracted 10,000 people and became an annual tradition for more than 10 years and helped to promote the value of the river.

Friends of the Petaluma River, a non-profit organization that is committed to educating the public about the river, became involved with conserving the river on a daily basis and promoting its importance to the community.

The organization is dedicated to making more information available about the river through various workshops and presentations. Friends of the Petaluma River often collaborates with other organizations to reach a wider audience.

The river currently is an asset to Petaluma and its surrounding community. Advocates feel that encouraging children and young adults to appreciate its beauty and resources is an important step to ensuring its conservation in the future. The river has remained constant throughout Petaluma’s history. Buildings are torn down, making way for new structures. Businesses change, residents move, but the river continues to flow.

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