Walking the Laguna de Santa Rosa

Sunday afternoon, we were looking for something short and sweet. It was sprinkling and warm and we had already worn ourselves out over the weekend.

We headed to the Laguna de Santa Rosa and parked in a dirt and gravel lot near the Community Center on Morris St. in Sebastopol. The Laguna is a 14-mile long wetland fed by creeks from the mountains. The water drains to the Russian River. Laguna de Santa Rosa is a rich resource of wildlife. The summer is the best time for human visitors, as much of it is flooded in the winter.

Behind the Youth Annex is one of the access points to a series of loop trails through the Laguna. By the Labyrinth of Life, a teen memorial in a grass maze, we found one of the trails.  A lumpy grass path circles the ponds and the ball fields. We admired some severely chopped back willows, a temporary fix against nature consuming the benches and trail. Across from where the two ballparks meet is a seasonal bridge.

It’s only up mid-May to October. In rainy flood season, it’s removed. Across ‘Sebastopol Pond’ is an area the Laguna Foundation is restoring. New trails have been added and there’s more to come. It takes many groups to make this work (Think of the number of credits on a movie or a PBS show.)

We studied the waters, trees and ducks from the wobbly floating bridge, before heading east to the area being actively restored. The Laguna Foundation has planted hundreds of oaks, coyote bush, blue elderberry and snowberry. The ‘berry’ bushes are now full of colorful berries.

We headed away from Hwy 12, figuring to make a loop. We did this walk years ago. But now there are more paths. It can be a hot walk with no shade, though today the occasional wind helped make this a pleasant walk. The clouds created rich colors on the fields and mountains.

It’s hard to see this as a wetland, for in the dry season it seems more like a big meadow with the path newly mown. I loved the soft grass trail that gives under foot like a path in the redwoods.

A few large Valley Oaks mark the area. Some have picnic tables in the shade. The first tree had a nesting box on it and shortly we saw a marker ‘Bluebird Trail’ and then ‘Meadowlark Field.’

Not having a map, we weren’t sure where all the paths went, but we knew we didn’t want to be too near Hwy 12 and we weren’t looking for a long walk. So we turned back to the dense vegetation of the main creek through the Laguna and re-crossed the seasonal bridge. It would be hard to get lost here as the area is wide open and the view clear.

Laguna de Santa Rosa meadow with oak

Once on the Sebastopol side of the water we circled the ponds. These are the remains of old sewage treatment ponds that now are full of wetland vegetation. The trail is narrow dirt path with a surround of trees and bushes. We enjoyed eating a few blackberries and peeked out to the graying day.

At the end of our walk was a native plant area. (Here, a kiosk has descriptive displays and a  trail and wildlife brochure.) A small knoll with a bench is an excellent spot for viewing the fields and the flatness of the Laguna and the Santa Rosa plain against the mountains. This area has become overgrown, but I like its random wildness. Not Heart of Darkness, but I like to touch those few spots of the raw world.

Overgrown pond near Sebastopol Community Center

See you on the trail!

Lynn Millar

Photos by Mike Millar

Thanks to: Laguna Foundation, Coastal Conservancy, the cities of Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, Community Foundation and the state Wildlife Conservation Board.

Wheelchair: Some of the area around the ponds. No access to the meadow/wetland at this time.

Dogs: On a leash.

Bikes: No.

Swimming: No

Bathrooms: Only if the community buildings are open or there’s a ball game. Otherwise, nada. Downtown Sebastopol is nearby.

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