For over a century, large stretches of the scenic Russian River have been dominated by industry, leaving small towns like Healdsburg, California with a broken link between the community and the beauty and resources of the river. With over 60% of the town's riverfront occupied by a gravel processing facility on a site known as the Healdsburg Bendway, virtually no space is available for the needs of the people or environment.
The Bendway Park proposal revitalizes a 100-acre industrial site along the river. Focusing on the issues of public access, economic viability, and environmental restoration, this proposal confronts the mismanagement of the Healdsburg riverfront with a vision of a practical and sustainable alternative. The unique site conditions and extensive input from local citizens have resulted in the transformation of this site into a vibrant post-industrial riverfront that will fulfill the needs of people and environment for generations.
The revitalization and restoration of over 100 acres of inaccessible and mismanaged riverfront in Healdsburg is long overdue. This proposal for Bendway Park brings new life to a forgotten space that will benefit the environment and economy of the local community for generations.
Russian River Watershed
Located fifty miles north of San Francisco, the Russian River watershed is comprised of over 150 creeks and inlets that flow from a spring in Mendocino County to the Pacific Ocean. The Russian River and its aquifer are vital resources for the 360,000 people living in the region and provide the basis for the local ecology, water supply, agriculture and industry. Over the years agricultural and gravel mining industries have monopolized the riverfront resulting in only 15 areas that are publically accessible along the entire length of the river.
The City of Healdsburg is located at the confluence of three rich agricultural areas: the Alexander Valley; Dry Creek Valley; and the Russian River. Healdsburg’s ideal climate, locally produced food and wine, and its small town charm have established it as a nationally acclaimed tourist destination. Economic trends show that the rise in tourism and property values have resulted in the relocation of heavy industries and construction businesses as the market shifts towards a more retail, services and light industrial oriented economy.
The Russian River flows through Healdsburg at a site called the Bendway, named for the 90 degree turn the river makes at this point. The Bendway has historically been a place of ritual and celebration for Healdsburg citizens with the annual Healdsburg Water Carnival that began in the early 1900’s. However, the carnival faded out in the 1950’s as industrial activities expanded at this site.
Sixty percent of the riverfront within Healdsburg city limits is currently occupied by Syar Industries, a gravel and aggregate supplier for the region. The site is a 100-acre expanse of gravel storage piles that can exceed 60 feet in height and excavated gravel pits that flood on a yearly basis. Constant shifting of gravel has destabilized the native flora allowing invasive reeds to completely overrun the riparian habitat. Enormous gravel mounds have been created at the perimeter in an attempt to both buffer and conceal the unpleasant sights, smells, and sounds of the asphalt production. Gravel products are sorted and transported throughout the site by massive steel framed conveyor belts which punctuate the skyline, but none are more prominent than the four 74-foot tall, eight-foot diameter steel towers. Originally intended as the foundations for a gigantic conveyor structure, the towers remain a dominant element along the Healdsburg Riverfront.
Memorial Beach Park is currently the only place that people can access the river in Healdsburg. Yet due to poor maintenance, overly priced parking, and limited beachfront this park is incredibly under used. It has become common for visitors to trespass on the adjacent Syar Industries property to access the more beautiful riverfront upstream. Recently, the area encompassing the Bendway and Syar Industries has undergone significant changes directed by the city’s General Plan. The Foss Creek Trail (completed in 2015) is a pedestrian / bike path that connects northern Healdsburg to Memorial Bridge and the project site. Plans are also underway for a residential and mixed use development to replace an existing lumber facility near the site. Future Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit (S.M.A.R.T.) trains from San Francisco will create more activity and increase nearby business and tourism. All this development focuses the spotlight on the derelict site and the need for transformation. This is reinforced by the following directives from the Healdsburg 2030 General Plan.
“Plan for the ultimate redevelopment of the Syar Industries properties”.
“Gravel mining operations are required to reclaim mined lands to a usable condition that is readily adaptable to alternative land uses”.
Meetings with local citizens including landscape architects provided crucial insight into the value people place on the river. It was clear that the people wanted to reclaim the river from Syar Industries and they desired a stronger visual and physical connection between the river and the town. Consideration was also given to economic strategies that would ensure that this proposal is a viable and practical alternative to the existing gravel plant.
This proposal for the quarter mile stretch of riverfront at Bendway Park addresses both the community input and city directives. More importantly, it provides a vision that will re-connect the people of Healdsburg with their river by providing long awaited public access, economic sustainability, and habitat restoration. Studies of current and projected economic, environmental, and social issues have resulted in three distinct programmatic zones structured by circulation, a storm water system, and planting design.
Zone 1 is comprised of the main areas of recreation, user activity, and includes the primary entrances to the park. A proposed pedestrian bridge attached to the existing railroad bridge will link the recently completed Foss Creek Trail with Bendway Park. Two vehicular entrances with strategically located parking are provided.
Existing industrial elements play a unique role in the proposed design. The railroad bridge abutment has been retrofitted with river steps providing safe swimming, fishing, and Water Carnival viewing opportunities. The system of overhead conveyors has been repurposed into tree walks that immerse visitors in a California woodland while providing panoramic views of the site. The four Bendway Towers have been reinstated as the iconic symbol of the site’s history and provide a visual link to the town. At their base, a 200-foot diameter lawn offers a flexible space for public events and gatherings.
Zone 2 serves as the “economic engine” to support the long term financial stability and maintenance of the park. Four warehouses host a variety of uses such as office space and wine production. A wine cellar, whose form is inspired by the existing industrial equipment, serves as a venue for a dining and wine tasting experience under the shade of oaks and surrounded by flowing native meadows.
Zone 3 is the more passive and serene portion of the park where the river itself predominates. Beach steps are placed along the path to provide year round accessibility to an ever changing riverfront. A campground nestled under the riparian forest canopy is located at the northern edge and provides a place of respite for the legions of kayakers who travel through this stretch of the river.
Circulation / Storm Water / Planting Design
The park’s pedestrian circulation path is at an elevation of 95 feet above sea level guaranteeing year round accessibility throughout the park even during severe flooding conditions. The massive piles of gravel have been removed and the site sculpted to embrace annual flooding through a series of retention ponds designed to hold up to ten million gallons of water per storm event. This water storage significantly alleviates downstream flooding while also recharging the local aquifer for community and agriculture wells. Contextual plant studies resulted in the creation of distinct planting zones strategically and appropriately located on site with each serving as the catalyst for an extensive habitat restoration.
Focusing on the issue of river accessibility, economic viability, and environmental sensitivity this proposal confronts the mismanagement of the Healdsburg riverfront with a vision for a practical and sustainable alternative in the postindustrial landscape of Bendway Park.