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From the Bottom Up
In one California community, a breakthrough for fish and folks.
By Lisa Owens Viani

Nestled against the gold- en hills of the wine country an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, the city of Santa Rosa, California, is breaking through concrete in—and old ways of thinking about—the creek that flows through its midst. In an ambitious creek restoration/greenway project that won an award of excellence from the California Park and Recreation Society last year, the city has restored a more natural channel for fish and wildlife, offered recreational and aesthetic opportunities for residents, and helped reconnect its downtown with the historic Railroad Square district.

Multipurpose trails lure people down to the water.
Mike Sheppard

As with many creek restoration projects, this revitalization of two-thirds of a mile of Santa Rosa Creek was inspired by citizen activists who, in 1989, concerned that the creek had become a dumping ground and an eyesore, called on the city to take a second look at it. The creek’s demise had begun in the 1960s when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Soil Conservation Service, convinced that the creek would flood the downtown, entombed almost half of the 13-mile-long waterway, which flows west from Mount Hood into the Russian River, in a wide, concrete, trapezoidal channel. This act, while theoretically preventing the predicted flood, not only destroyed the aesthetics of the creek, but also caused big problems for the native fish population, including the endangered steelhead trout trying to swim up the creek to spawn.

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