Nathanson Creek Preserve and Parkway
This column ran eight years ago at the completion of a project establishing the Nathanson Creek Preserve. Since that time, its architect, Christy Vreeland, has passed away, while her vision has flourished. The column has been updated to reflect the completion of a major enhancement of the preserve being celebrated this week.
When I was attending Sonoma High, Nathanson Creek was a place we would go during our short lunch break to get away from teachers. It was a wildish, forgotten place, with wind-gathered trash, a place that forced us to go out of our way to get to the track on the other side. It certainly wasn't much as an amenity.
Years later, when I'd moved back to Sonoma to manage the Ecology Center, it was only with vague interest that I went out to the creek again. I went though, and Christy Vreeland, a new volunteer, showed me something I hadn't seen before.
The creek was a band of nature that ran the length of the city. It had places that still contained important native plants and animals. As a wild corridor through town, it provided animals a way to get from one side to the other. The water and trees there supported life that in most other towns in the Bay Area would have to find food and shelter elsewhere. Those towns had buried their creeks.
Nathanson Creek was a connector for humans, too. People who lived south of the high school were disconnected from the rest of Sonoma except by Broadway, which was not friendly for pedestrians or bikes. They clandestinely used a dirt path through the back of the school, and then cut through the campus or through nearby Prestwood Elementary School to get to safe streets.
The next summer, at the Ecology Centerís annual retreat, Christy unveiled a plan that would take all these facts and blend them into a compelling vision. What if there were a park and preserve that ran from East MacArthur Street to Napa Road, three quarters of a mile, that protected the creek, established a bike path along it and created a series of wild areas that could support nature and offer a living laboratory for students nearby?
Eighteen years later, with land acquired, a bike path completed, bridges installed, acres of invasive plants removed, thousands of native trees and shrubs planted, and numerous features added that bring focus to the beauty of the stream and the valley that supports it, Christy's vision has resolved into something our community can be quite proud of.
Considering that 75 percent of land animals in California depend on creeks and wetlands, and that nearly 90 percent of this habitat has been altered or destroyed, this one project is not a small thing. Nathanson Creek has become the "amenity" it wasn't, a park that will serve humans and nature into the future.
It took a healthy community to make the vision work. Christy gathered the right people and institutions together, and they - the school district, the City of Sonoma, the Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma Ecology Center, the county Open Space District, and numerous citizen volunteers - ran with it. Recent support by the California Resources Agency, California Coastal Conservancy, Americorps members and CalFire, along with the Nathanson Creek stewardship group, students from Adele Harrison and Sonoma Valley High School, and many other contributors, honed it into a beautiful linear park for Sonoma.
There were many years of challenges and hard work, and the project will need ongoing community support. It is nonetheless a striking thing, an example of a community that is willing and able to come together for the sake of future generations. As a measure of what we do in our lives, of whether we are doing what is meaningful, there may be no better test.
• • •
Richard Dale is executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center. Thank you Christy, and all the volunteers and public servants who spent their time making this project a reality.