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Monte Rio Musings - June 2015


Monte Rio Musings - June 2015


As the summerish weather settles in, the river settles down, waiting for the river mouth to sand up and start the rise and fall of docks and ducks. The flows are low enough right now that they are barely detectable. While the river still trickles through the sandbar at Jenner, the algae is starting to bloom up here and get blown around by the wind from the coast. Sometimes you could begin to believe that the river flows upstream toward Guerneville, but it’s just because the wind is a more powerful force than the flow of water these days. 

Even though the flows are low, there’s still enough water for motor boats, canoes, and kayaks. In short, it’s time to seek out those nooks and crannies of solitude offered by the Vacation Wonderland. The Monte Rio beach café is open, and so are the kayak and canoe rentals. The folks in Alexander Valley and around Healdsburg may complain about the low flows, but Monte Rio is fed by more tributaries and has some good paddling. There are still a few places you can bottom out if you’re not paying attention, but generally the navigable channels can get you to Casini Ranch from the Monte Rio Beach. And when the river mouth sands up, the river will become a long skinny lake.

All that said, I get a chuckle when I go over the Monte Rio Bridge and see those banners that say the Russian River is “Balanced by Nature.” Cute phrase, but the reality is that the flows in the Russian River aren’t “balanced” by nature; they are seriously manipulated by the Sonoma County Water Agency, subject to the regulation of a host of state and federal agencies. The Water Agency must implement the federal Biological Opinion to protect the salmonids and has the obligation to hold back or go forth with dredging in Jenner that affects the river water levels from the coast to Vacation Beach out of Guerneville. The Water Agency works with state Fish and Wildlife and other agencies to provide sufficient water for the steelhead raised at Lake Sonoma. So, “balanced” or juggled? You have to admit that “Russian River… Juggled by Regulators” just doesn’t make a very charming slogan.

If you want to hear more about this, Water Agency staff will be holding their annual update to discuss the Jenner estuary “Adaptive Management Plan” and the low flow situation on Thursday, June 11, starting at 6 p.m. at the Monte Rio Community Center. Should be interesting!

Speaking of charm, Duncans Mills is loaded with it. The historic village also has the Russian River Sportsmen’s Club, a group of about 150 men and women who like to fish, have a private beach access for boating, and fire their shotguns at flying disks. A few weeks ago, I received a bulk mailer addressed to post office box holders in Monte Rio with a petition being circulated by Judy Gregg to “stop club members from pumping several tons of lead and arsenic into the Russian River flood zone annually AND stop the hundreds of shotgun blasts we are subject to every week.”

I remember the first time the afternoon breeze blew the sounds of gunfire upstream to Monte Rio, and I called a friend in Villa Grande to see if there was a siege on somewhere. Then I figured it out…the Sportsmen’s Club. After six years, the windblown sounds seem so sporadic that it doesn’t bother me, and I find it modestly comforting knowing that the shots emanate from a shooting range that has been there since 1938 and not bands of brigands roving the hills. The club has scheduled shoots on the first and third Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and during the summer, on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

From a zoning standpoint, the use is considered “legal non-conforming” because it precedes adoption of the Zoning Code or the Coastal Ordinance. (Like all of Duncans Mills, the site is in the Coastal Zone.)

As for the lead shot, club President Ray Yung said that the club operates according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s “best management practices.” The club range master has done studies of trajectories to ensure that the shot stays on club property. The lead gets periodically covered with soil and overgrown with vegetation to keep it in place, and the club has gotten a “clean bill of health” from regulatory agencies. “I’ve been having conversations with everybody,” he told me.

The noise? It’s been there since 1938. People using vacation rentals deserve to get advised about the shooting range, but Duncans Mills is not the big city, and gunfire seems to just be just one last vestige of the wild west. It strikes me as a tad ironic that vacation rentals, long accused of being sources of excessive noise and late-night partying, would be the source of complaints about scheduled daytime noise. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


On a sad note, Jeanie Torr passed away on April 12. Over her almost 65 years as a Monte Rio resident, she gave much to the community, including involvement in the Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Auxiliary, the Monte Rio Mothers Club, St. Catherine’s Guild, and the Monte Rio Variety Show. As Chamber of Commerce president Mary Baker noted, Monte Rio has benefited greatly from the spirit of community she instilled in her children Michael, Michele, Brian, and Lee. Michele is now active in the effort to detach Monte Rio and the River Road corridor from the Palm Drive Hospital Distrct.

The death of San Francisco 49ers Hall of Famer Bob St. Clair will also leave a void in the Monte Rio community. Although Bob lived in Santa Rosa, he helped judge the 4th of July water parades for many years. Stories about his graciousness were not exaggerated. I recall a couple of years ago when a young man who could never have possibly seen Bob play came gushing up to him with compliments, and Bob just took it all in stride. The last time I saw him was last July at the Monte Rio Variety show, sitting in a car parked on the street outside the venue, enjoying one of his favorite pastimes, smoking cigars with buddy Mike Venn.

Upcoming Events, etc.

School is out! Monte Rio School District finishes up classes on June 4th and the youngsters can now spend as much time as they want at Creekside Park. Last time I drove by the skateboard park, it was busy and folks were dining at the Farm Stand Café. On Friday, June 5th at 2 p.m., the Recreation and Park District and county officials will dedicate the installation of new Water Catchment Tanks at Creekside Park.

Monday, June 8, the park district board meets at the Community Center. The fire district board meets there on Tuesday the 9th. For a look at the full schedule at the Community Center, check the park district calendar at  

Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department has booked the Community Center for a meeting to discuss the update of the Local Coastal Plan on Thursday, June 24th. 

Monte Rio School District board meets on the 25th at the school.

Fireworks on Friday, July 3rd. Time to start thinking about creative new floats for the Water Parade!