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Discover the Southern Laguna


Discover the Southern Laguna

By Christine Fontaine, Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation

The southern reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa was once a shallow meandering stream home to a wide variety of plant and wildlife species. In the 1970’s, a section of the Laguna just west of the intersection of Rohnert Park Expressway and Stony Point Road was straightened and deepened to increase flood protection to growing neighborhoods and businesses. Riparian and in-stream vegetation was also removed (via herbicide spraying from helicopters!) at that time toward the goal of moving water out of the area, quickly. Very soon it became obvious that those practices had negative effects on the ecosystem. Sprouting trees & shrubs were then allowed to grow back in the channel but that ended up facilitating sediment build-up and resulted in large areas of stagnant water upstream, all suggesting a possible over correction! 

Today, management practices aim to balance flood protection and ecosystem function. In a 2008 cooperative grant application to the River Parkways Program (Proposition 84), the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Laguna Foundation proposed a project to improve flood control and water quality while enhancing the natural ecological value of the area. Activities outlined in the proposal incorporated sediment removal, improved in-stream vegetation management practices, the construction of a low-flow summer channel, installation of native vegetation, and increased public access to the area. 

The Laguna Foundation’s contribution to the project included the restoration of riparian and upper floodplain native vegetation along a 1.7 mile reach of the Laguna utilizing more than 4,884 container plants and approximately 15,000 grass seedlings over 30 acres, plus the creation of six interpretive signs to inform visitors walking on the new trail of the Laguna’s unique and diverse environment and the benefits of a healthy ecosystem. 

After seven years and countless hours of labor, the project has come to completion, and the results of the work are already beginning to show! The over-all plant survival rate is at 86%, Monarch Butterflies have found the Narrow-leaf Milkweed, birds are utilizing the increased perch, nest and forage opportunities, and the low-flow channel is hindering the spread of invasive plant species. 

A project completion celebration and grand opening of the trail will take place April 23 but you can begin enjoying the 2-mile round-trip trail right away. Bring binoculars and watch for Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Audubon’s Warbler and Bushtits in the willow trees, White-crowned Sparrows along the trail, Say’s and Black Phoebes in the open areas, plus Cooper’s, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers over-head. Deepen your Laguna sense of place by getting to know this area of the watershed now and watch it develop and flourish over time.

Grand Opening Walks: Sat., April 23

Two walk times to choose from: 8am and 10am. $10 donation requested. Pre-registration required: