Just one week ago the Press Democrat featured a story about a mountain lion hit by a car off of River Road. Sadly I was reminded of the plight of mountain lions in southern California where a rapidly growing population fragments the land and makes islands of open space. Because of this fragmentation, the iconic mountain lion has become the impetus for one of the largest habitat connectivity projects to date, a wildlife overpass bridging the Santa Monica Mountains to larger wilderness areas. This bridge allows mountain lions as well as other wildlife to safely traverse the considerable barrier of Hwy 101 to reach new hunting grounds and find new mates.
Though it may feel safe to think that the environmental troubles of Southern California are greater and incomparable to suburban and rural Sonoma County, our dwindling salmon populations tell a different tale. Much like the fragmentation of the southern California wildlands, the Russian River’s rich diverse habitats are fragmented from one another. An increasing numbers of homes, farms, businesses, and vineyards contribute to smaller and smaller areas in which animals are able to access their daily needs.
Though disturbing, it is this fragmentation phenomenon that sparked the creation of the Trek Sonoma program at LandPaths. Trek Sonoma strives to bring awareness and value to large stretches of connected habitat in Sonoma County. To launch this project, two trips were piloted in 2015. The first debuted in August with a three day walking Trek stretching from Shell Beach to Bohemia Ecological Preserve. The most recent October pilot Trek saw 15 participants, 3 work traders, and several guest speakers float down the Russian River for three days.
With the help and support of River’s Edge Kayak and Canoe Trips in Healdsburg, the group launched from the Alexander Valley Bridge and paddled downstream to arrive at Warnecke Ranch several hours later.
In attempt to expand the concept of connectivity Trek Sonoma is also dedicated to weaving private landowners, local businesses, and agriculture into this project. The Warneckes are a 5th and 6th generation Sonoma County family whom have lived on this particular parcel of land for over 100 years and have a long history of contributing to Sonoma County arts and culture. As the group walked up from the river to their campsite on the Ranch, Margo Merck and Alice Sutro- the matriarchs now overseeing the ranch- welcomed the group and shared their long legacy of community involvement.
After setting up their tents, participants indulged in a sumptuous dinner provide by Chef Gary Fleener, who specializes in local fare. To accompany the meal, participant and vintner Darek Trowbridge of Old World Winery offered tastings of his biodynamically grown wines. Craig Anderson rounded out the evening with music and singing.
At a leisurely morning pace the group toured the architectural archives of John Warnecke and met guest speakers Kate Lundquist of Occidental Arts and Ecology Center’s WATER Institute and Don McEnhill of Russian RiverKeeper. These two shared the story of the Russian River, the plight of Sonoma County waters, and offered options for community activism. Don and Kate’s stories continued as they joined the to group to paddle down river.
Along one of the most undeveloped stretches of the Russian River, participants watched birds and looked for signs of beaver, otter, and returning fall salmon. Midway through the day they stopped for lunch on a gravel bar to share their own stories of living near the Russian River, some tales stretching far back into childhood.
By mid- afternoon the group landed on the banks of Front Porch Farms due east of Healdsburg. The farm rests on a bench of rich alluvial soils, surrounded by low hills forming a pocket valley and tends a mosaic of fruit, nut, and olive orchards; fields of grains, alfalfa, and pasture grass; a wide variety of heritage vegetable crops; and wine grapes on the sunny hillsides. In balance, Front Porch also thinks animals have an important role to play in the health and vitality of the land so they raise Boer goats, Italian-origin Cinta Senese pigs, and a United Nations of various chicken breeds.
Participants were treated to a tour and learned the inner workings of this model farm striving for sustainability. As sun set the group returned to camp for a meal composed of the vegetables and pork grown on the farm where they slept. Late night wine tasting accompanied hearty singing, which melded into an early morning chorus of coyotes waking the group from their dreams.
With the rising sun, the group packed up camp and bid farewell to Front Porch Farms. The final day of paddling offered nostalgic memories of what the river was decades ago and quiet reflection only to be disturbed by exciting sightings of steelhead trout zipping beneath their kayaks. As participants hauled their boats onto River’s Edge beach near Memorial Bridge in Healdsburg they gathered for one last meal. With much laughter and tears paddlers offered praise certainly for LandPaths but more so for the River and the opportunity to spend three contiguous days out of car and home in Sonoma County. They shared the realization that the considerable barriers of fragmentation in Sonoma County are not only for our salmon, but also pose a problem for connecting people to the landscape they call home. Via Trek Sonoma participants were able to see the necessity of connected habitat not only for the health of our wildlife, but they also glimpsed the ideal that connection is imperative amongst people, landowners, and community action.
Contents (c) 2008 by Land Partners Through Stewardship (Landpaths) Site Credits