Petaluma River group floats a grand vision

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Greg Sabourin, Executive Director of the Petaluma Small Craft Center, has a vision — the Petaluma River alive with human powered watercraft, launching from a custom “floathouse” in the Turning Basin, and streaming out into the river. This dynamic and varied flotilla of watercraft will wind its watery way through the downtown, under the D Street Bridge, and continue downriver beyond the Riverfront Community Boathouse and the Marina. Past bicycles, joggers and dog walkers who stroll along the shore, the water-born convoy will row, paddle and pedal its way to Shollenberger Park. Then, as locals and tourists alike take their time returning upriver, they can stop at the Community Boathouse for a lesson or two, or tie up at the many wharves that meet the River, to eat, drink and explore.

Though still just a dream, Sabourin says it’s definitely going to come true. And the community of Petaluma can get a taste of what such a possibility will be like on June 4, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., as the Petaluma Small Craft Center (PSCC) hosts its annual Day on the River.

It’s all part of the PSCC’s effort to, as Sabourin describes it, “get butts into boats.” The non-profit organization already has a lot of boats. This weekend they’ll be hoping to attract a large number of, um, butts.

“For ten dollars,” Sabourin says, “you’ll get a life vest and four hours to try out the largest assemblage of human powered water craft in the country. Petaluma’s a great town, with this unique river that runs through it. The only way to appreciate the river is to be in the water.”

When you see Petaluma from the river, he suggests, your entire perspective shifts. From that point of view a local can better learn to respect, appreciate and be inspired to take better care of the River.

Day on the River, says Sabourin, is designed, “For people who don’t have a watercraft, but are open to the experience of getting on the water, as well as people who already have a human powered craft, who might want to try some different experiences.”

Sabourin founded the North Bay Rowing Club back in the 1980s. In the past, he says, many people turned their back on the River.

“Now they are turning toward the River,” he says. “The river is finally back in our consciousness.”

The PSCC consists of several local businesses, along with river advocates like the Friends of the Petaluma River, and several river-based clubs, both racing and recreational. The Day on the River is not only about experiencing various watercraft. It’s also about raising funds to finish building the aforementioned Floathouse Small Craft Rental Center. The Center, once completed, will rent boats and other watercraft by the hour or by the day. Included will be kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, rowboats, stand up paddle boards and possibly a sailboat or two.

There will be something for everyone’s taste and athletic ability.

“With a standup paddle board, you can work very hard and not get anywhere,” says Sabourin, noting Petaluma’s late afternoon wind. “Whereas a pedal craft would push right through. Take a pedal boat out for an hour, go all the way down to the Boathouse and back up to the Floathouse, and you’ll get a good workout.”

In addition to craft powered by human exertion, Sabourin says there will be a Higgins electric boat fitted with a canopy, that will offer downriver excursions — with adult beverages and food.

Sabourin hopes to complete the $1,000,000 fundraising campaign by the end of 2017. The required pilings and floating docks have already been purchased and are currently in storage. In order to be ready for the start of the 2018 season, work will have to begin July 1st.

“There is a ‘fish window’ for work on the River,” Sabourin explains. “You can only do work from July 1st to the end of September, and if we don’t get the piles sunk and the dock set up, we’d like to have a soft opening in the weekends before High Season when the schools let out. We’d like to take advantage of that, rather than push the opening into the late season.”

Once the Floathouse is complete, construction can begin on phase II, the Community Boathouse.

“It’ll probably be 4-5 times more money,” Sabourin says, “but it’ll be a meeting place for education and recreation, a place for the River Community to come together.”

To learn more about the Petaluma Small Craft Center, The Day on the River fundraiser or the clubs and community that share the River go to petalumasmallcraftcenter.org

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