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Expand Gualala Point Park

Published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on November 3, 2006.

Only 70 years ago, in the mid 1930s, most of the central and upper reaches of the Gualala River Watershed still were covered with virgin old-growth redwood forests. The trees shaded the river and its tributaries, and a deep network of tree roots helped prevent erosion of forest soils. Salmon and steelhead thrived in this environment, filling the river.

In little more than half a century, the old-growth trees along the river were cut down. The methods used to remove these trees severely damaged the river. The Gualala River became overloaded with eroded sediment. Without the shade provided by the trees, most of the river became too warm. Our salmon runs almost disappeared.

Upstream from current Gualala Point Regional Park Even though the watershed has suffered from more than a century of heavy land use, the forest surrounding the river is still a dynamic ecosystem that could recover if given time. Even now there are signs that parts of the river might be in an early stage of recovery. There is still too much sediment in the river, but not as much as there used to be. The river temperature is still too warm, but more canopy-shaded pools seem to be forming. Single-thread channels have appeared in parts of the river. If these developments are really signs that the river is beginning to heal itself, how can we best maintain this momentum?

Upstream from current Gualala Point Regional Park
Friends of the Gualala River believe that there is a common sense way to protect the forestland along our river. The Gualala Point Regional Park should be expanded further up the river. Upstream from current Gualala Point Regional Park Protected areas should be created along the river where new trees can grow to maturity and remain there. The isolated patches of old-growth forest that still exist within our watershed should be given a chance to reconnect with each other. An expanded park would provide the greatest public benefit to the largest number of people.

Expansion of the Gualala Point Park is not a new idea. In 1955 the Sonoma County Planning Commission presented a visionary plan for a large park along the river. The plan stated, “This area is proposed for a major park because of its size, its natural beauty of second growth timber and other foliage, and because of its location along the Gualala River and the south fork.” Permanent protection was envisioned for a large portion of our watershed. Friends of the Gualala River has posted an excerpt from the “1955 Revised Beach and Shoreline Master Plan” and the map of the proposed Gualala River Park on our website at GualalaRiver.org.

What will the Gualala River look like in 20 years? In 50 years? In 100 years? Will large trees once again line the riverbanks and provide essential shade for salmon, or will liquidation logging, residential development and vineyard sprawl doom our river’s future?

Upstream from current Gualala Point Regional Park
Photos: Upstream from current Gualala Point Regional Park
The choices we make now and the actions we take will determine what type of river our grandchildren and their grandchildren will inherit.

With several large developments looming on the horizon, now is the right time to revive Sonoma County’s visionary plan to expand the Gualala Point Park.

John Holland
Friends of the Gualala River

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