We were prepared for a rain-filled weekend. So we got out early Saturday (Oct 23rd) and headed south to Petaluma, where there was less chance of rain. I wanted to explore Ellis Creek.
In July of 2009 this area was opened with access at the end of Cypress Dr, near Hwy 116. Part of it encompasses ponds for the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility and part of it has been restored to native plants.
We parked in a spacious lot and immediately noticed egrets flying overhead. They seemed to be a gathering.
The path is hard packed sand or gravel. In winter, some of the area can be flooded. It is wide, flat and even. To the left the path curves around a seasonal wetland. When I was here in the spring it was full of water, egrets and avocets. Now, it is dry. A couple of egrets stalked around.
Several signs describe the water recycling process, with aerial pictures placing you in the landscape and with beautiful pictures of birds and other animals.
Up a slight grade a gravel path circles several polishing (final stage of water treatment) ponds. In the first one, swans, grebes and coots cruised around the water, while egrets stood at the shore. In another, mallards poked around. The last pond is called a butterfly pond with an irregular shoreline to provide a beach and roosting areas for birds.
As we walked parallel to a line of eucalyptus, we enjoyed the openness of this area, mountains behind and in front of us, but wide flat land in between and a big gray mottled sky overhead. It was a perfect walking day.
We completed the loops of the ponds and went left onto a sand path. This area is closed to bikes and dogs. It is also closed January 15th to August 15th for the California Clapper Rail, a struggling bird species.
The path is less than a half of a mile out and back going to Gray’s Marsh. At low tide it is a mudflat and at high tide the brackish bay water floods into the Petaluma River.
In this area we marveled at the subtle colors. Browns and reds dominate greens and a few yellow star thistles. In the spring, tall anise would bloom yellow on part of the trail. We could peek out to the mudflat and watched low flying groups of shorebirds, fly, stop and take off again in unison. Swallows flew overhead.
When we got back near the parking lot, we continued north. This section of trail connects to Shollenberger Park. Valley Oaks have been planted along here.
Our walk was about 2 miles. For a longer walk, you could circle all of the ponds. Or if you were to continue along the river, you would come to Alman Marsh and to the Sheraton Hotel, near Hwy 116 and Hwy 101.
This place is thanks to the efforts of the City of Petaluma, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the Coastal Conservancy. Ellis Creek is south of the pond and trail area.
Photos by Mike Millar
Directions: From Hwy 101, get off at Hwy 116 towards Sonoma (or Hwy 37). Turn right on S. McDowell Blvd, bear right on Cypress Dr and follow to end.
Bathrooms: Cinder block bathrooms, flush toilets, cold water, no towels. Not out of towels, but no towels. That’s why blue jeans were invented.
Food: We brought a picnic. But this is Petaluma. There are many choices, even if Starbucks and 7-11 are the closest.