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Sonoma County Gazette
Fort Ross Doghole Port
Fort Ross doghole port in late 19th century

Exploring the 'Doghole Ports'

Aug 31, 2017
by Robin Joy Wellman


Our Sonoma and Mendocino coasts have an amazing and diverse natural and cultural history offering unexplored areas and untold stories. The “Doghole Ports Project: Exploring the Cultural Landscape of the Sonoma Coast” is an active project supported by the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary under NOAA in partnership with the Office of National Marine SanctuariesCalifornia State Parks, The San Francisco Maritime Museum, Sonoma State University and other partners. For the last two years a team of archeologists, interns, and divers have been exploring over 12 ‘doghole ports’ (barely large enough for a dog to turn around) which were active starting in the 1850’s along the Sonoma Coast and over 9 ports in Mendocino are noted. The project is also exploring some of the 100 plus shipwrecks on our rugged coast most of which are identified previously. With few roads our coastline was the main transportation means thus the ocean waterways were the most important to ranchers and farmers to get the lumber, railroad ties, tanbark, produce, meats, and many other products to the awaiting schooners to the buyers often in San Francisco.  This research effort connects many aspects of the cultural history which often goes untold amongst our local neighbors and visitors to our coast. This maritime heritage is important to our shared history. Land and water was truly connected here on our coast. Can you imagine the work and risk involved in this labor force in getting supplies from the shores to the ships and beyond to the buyers in San Francisco?

One of most important aspects in this project is to identify these locations but also to reach and connect communities together, to understand how the resources were used amongst the many ranchers and farmers in our communities in this shared heritage. The project wants to document and engage with the community to correctly tell these stories and get the facts accurate as well as bring an awareness of overlooked yet important history highlighting the families of this era. The goal is also to support a stewardship ethic for the public that comes to the coast and uses the resources keeping protection in place as a priority. The main request at this time is for families to look in their scrapbooks for old photos of the doghole ports and uses of the coast line. Or if you have personal stories and would like to share them the project leads are most grateful. Please visit the website for contact and tons of information as well as classroom material, events, and lectures planned.

With all this – I encourage you to get out and about this month, warm up your bodies from this fog, and check out the place names of these ports – such asFisk Mill Cove,Schooner Gulch as well as many other coastal spots with the available access from our many parks. Please do not explore on private land.

Fort Ross doghole port in late 19th century. Credit Fort Ross Conservancy

Doghole Port: Fort Ross Cove Fort Ross State Historic Park

 Historical location of lumber chutes in Fort Ross Cove indicated by the yellow pin - Credit Google Earth

Doghole Port: Fisk Mill Cove at Salt Point State Park

Wishing you all the best that September has to offer. It is one of my favorite months on the coast. Calm waters, fog or no fog, no wind, and quieter days. Remember to count your many blessings. Share a hug, share a story, and lend a helping hand to someone in need. Love love.

North Coast Winds by Robin Joy Wellman


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