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Sonoma County Gazette
Jenner Headlands MAP

Preserving the Wild Coastline

Feb 5, 2018
by Tim McKusick


As a boy growing up in Sonoma County and small-town Santa Rosa, I was fortunate to have the creeks, rivers, Redwood forests and the wild and pristine coast to call my playground. 

Fortunate, indeed. Our family made frequent trips to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. I remember playing on the stage of the outdoor theatre hidden in among the immense Redwoods. It was magical; our imaginations could run wild, creating our own Shakespearian dramas for the imaginary audiences. Even on the hottest of Summer’s days, we could seek refuge in the cool groves of these ancient trees.

In those days the creeks ran wild. Teeming with wildlife, they were perfect for inquiring young minds. Frogs and tadpoles thrived in ‘nature’s classrooms’. Fish were so abundant, we just took it for granted it would always be this good.

I remember standing with my buddies at the bridge by Cohen’s Second-Hand Store on Santa Rosa Avenue, (where Santa Rosa Creek and other creeks converged) as the raging creeks below looked like a scene from a National Geographic special; the huge fish fighting their way upstream were leaping and struggling to make it back to their spawning grounds. To say it was awesome would be an understatement.

And to have this happening at the center of our little town was incredible! One could easily see why Luther Burbank built his house just yards away. It was so alive and fruitful. Inspiring on so many levels.

Of course, unbeknownst to us, while we were innocently enjoying the beauty of our forests and streams, the ancient forests were being clear-cut at an increasingly alarming rate. And the streams and rivers were being mined and re-routed into cement bunkers in the name of progress and ‘flood-control’.

The natural resources we thought were an endless cornucopia were being pillaged with little thought of what the future impacts would be.

On a family vacation up into Redwood Country, we visited Scotia, a ‘company town’ where everyone was employed in the logging industry. On a tour of the mill, I remember being in awe of the size of the logs being processed. The scale of the operation was geared to process the giant Old-Growth logs. I clearly recall watching logs that were “as big as Greyhound Scenicruisers” being rolled and tumbled as an operator up in a booth blasted the bark off with a high-powered water cannon prior to the logs being sent to the saws.

Locally, Town & Country and Montgomery Village shopping centers were being built with huge Redwood timbers and beams, a cheap and abundant building material at that time.

Developers had their eye on the area at the mouth of the Russian River and other coastal sites. Jenner was slated to be deep-water harbor with a permanently open river mouth. The sand and gravel that was Penny Island was mined and shipped off to build the Bart tunnels and other Bay Area projects. Up into the 1980’s there was little regulation of mining our rivers and streams.

Likewise up on the hillsides where the trees were stripped with little thought given to sustainability or the future. Stream-beds were routinely used to skid the huge logs to the loading decks, forever changing and destroying vital native species’ habitat.

Thank Goddess we have seen the errors of our ways. Especially here in our Sonoma County where we are actively seeking to preserve and restore many of the historic coastal and rural ranches. As a Realtor here in West County, I am proud to point out the amazing properties that we have successfully preserved for future generations. It is well worth the small tax we impose on ourselves.

The Jenner Headlands Preserve is a prime example of this. This 6.000 acre property was ground-zero for the abusive mining and logging practices I described. Historical photographs from the 70’s & 80’s show a ‘moonscape’ almost completely devoid of any trees, with hundreds of miles of logging ‘skid trails’ spider-webbing the terrain, obliterating the headwater streams of several vital native fish species.

Since the Miracle that took the property out of the developer’s hands, the Preserve is being actively groomed with the long-range goal of re-creating the Old Growth habitat that once thrived here. The larger Redwoods are being protected so that someday, our children and grandchildren (and their children) can experience the healing restorative powers that the ancient forests hold. Sheephouse Creek, the critical Estuary-Perched Coho Stream which has its headwaters in the Jenner Headlands Preserve is having its source restored and protected.

I pray that the sections of Sheephouse Creek that flow through the area of private landowners (below the Preserve and above the Russian River Estuary) will one day be also deemed important enough to cease tree removal, and be managed along with the Old-Growth Mandate that is the creedo of the adjacent Preserve. With our Native Species barely avoiding total extinction, and every day is a fight for survival, we can no longer keep doing things ‘the old way’.

I have faith.


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