Landing a home for steelhead
WENDY ELIOT, with Sonoma Land Trust, and Richard Dale, with the Sonoma Ecology Center, look over part of a creek that the Sonoma Land Trust just bought.
The Sonoma Land Trust has big plans for a small property it has just acquired near the intersection of Highway 12 and Arnold Drive in Glen Ellen.
The 3.53-acre property, called "Stuart Creek Run," includes a one-third mile stretch of Stuart Creek, that supports a stable run of federally threatened steelhead trout. But most of the fisheries habitat in Stuart Creek has been largely inaccessible to steelhead for decades because the stream runs under a small bridge on the property and the bed has eroded so deeply that steelhead cannot jump over what has become a six-foot-high waterfall. The eroding bridge also threatens to fall into the creek, generating tons of polluting sediment. Removal of the barrier has been identified as one of the highest priorities for recovering steelhead in the Bay Area by the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration.
The land trust was able to acquire the property, which had been in its sights for several years, thanks to support from an anonymous donor who loaned the purchase amount when the property suddenly came on the market. The purchase price - $140,000 - was far below the original asking price, but land trust conservation director Wendy Eliot explained that the owners had difficulty getting development permits and also wanted to see the streambed protected and restored.
Along with its value as a steelhead run, the property is situated within an identified wildlife corridor in close proximity to other protected lands, including Sonoma Land Trust's Glen Oaks Ranch and Secret Pasture Preserve, Sonoma Valley Regional Park, Bouverie Preserve, Quarryhill Botanical Garden and Jack London State Historic Park. The property was first brought to the attention of the Land Trust by the Sonoma Ecology Center and 1st District Supervisor Valerie Brown, who requested the Land Trust's assistance in acquiring it from landowners Toni and Jeff Piccinini who hoped for a conservation outcome.
Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, views the Stuart Creek Run as more than a small piece of habitat protection, although he expressed great satisfaction for that outcome.
"With the Sonoma Land Trust taking ownership, we can now restore this special part of Sonoma Valley to once again provide safe passage for native fish and wildlife," said Dale. But he added that the run can also become a living workshop in watershed preservation for students in Sonoma Valley schools who will have easy access to the property in the future and can witness the dynamics of stream bed management and restoration.
Along with reestablishing the creek's historic channel pattern to give steelhead access to 14 miles of high-quality spawning habitat, the property offers an ideal spot, said Eliot, for a roadside park where residents and visitors to the valley could "enjoy a tranquil picnic, take a leisurely stroll, and learn about fish and creek restoration."
Brown added that, "The size of this lovely little property belies its huge promise for becoming a community treasure."
With the property now protected, the Land Trust's first priority is to secure enough private donations to pay back the loan used to purchase the parcel.
Following that effort, the Land Trust will partner with Sonoma Ecology Center to restore Stuart Creek's riparian and fish habitat and create a park on the property.
The team will first plan, permit and implement restoration of the property, including removing the steelhead migration barrier, stabilizing the stream channel and rejuvenating the riparian habitat. Private and public funding will be sought for that phase of the project. Construction of the roadside park will be the final phase of the project and will require private funding to build and provide for its ongoing maintenance. Anyone interested in contributing to the project can contact Beverly Scottland at 526-6930, ext. 108, or go to www.sonomalandtrust.org.