BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen, Oct. 26

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A hardy band of almost a dozen energetic Glen Ellen individuals spent last Saturday morning cleaning the two downtown creeks. Sonoma Creek and the Calabazas Creek meet almost directly under the town bridge and are vital to the charm and structure of the town.

The Sonoma Ecology Center provided the expertise, the equipment, lemonade and cookies, and the Glen Ellen Forum Projects Committee provided the volunteers. By 9:15 a.m. on a sparkling fall morning, over 10 folks, trash bags and picker-uppers in hand, slid down the bramble bush banks into the creek beds, combing the creek for “anything man-made.” Braving the stinging nettles and mossy rocks, they retrieved a massive 222 pounds of yucky rubbish. Mostly beer cans, Styrofoam, fast-food wrappers and – uh - toilet paper, this lively band of workers also found broken irrigation tubing, seating cushions, tent stakes and more, all hauled away by Patrick Willis and Steve Lee of the Sonoma Ecology Center. For now, the creeks are au naturel, ready for the winter flow, and clear of trash from the town bridge for a block south paralleling Yell Lane, and north to the O’Donnell Lane bridge.

Down in the creek bed on that quiet Saturday morning in October, the water was still and reflected the changing colors of fall. Cool and moist along the riparian tunnel of trees there were tiny rivulets of flowing water among the stones which sounded like little wind chimes in the shadows. A century ago, this creek was a summer destination for San Franciscans who traveled by the Northwest Pacific Railroad to camp on the banks of the full and flowing creeks. It was deep enough in summertime to swing on ropes from the overhanging branches and land with a bellyflop splash-down in the middle. These creeks – home to steelhead, frogs, salamanders, river otters and even a few beavers – are a precious resource in Glen Ellen. Habitat for wildlife here is being lost in part due to the scouring of the creeks by the winter rush of water, steepening the banks and silting the bottom.

The O’Donnell Lane bridge which crosses this creek at O’Donnell Lane, is officially “Calabasas Creek Bridge” on the Sonoma County Historical Register. Built originally for horse and buggy in 1900, it is only 10 feet wide. Bricked around 1920 with yellow bricks fired around the corner in the round, oil-burning kilns at California Brick & Pottery Company, C.C. O’Donnell Brickyard, were located on the rise where Robertson Road is now. The “yellow” in the yellow bricks is thought to be from kaolin clay which most likely came from the Weise kaolin clay pit located 2.5 miles north of Glen Ellen.

Our creeks, delicate and graceful, along with this sweet bridge, are worth caring for and defending. Thank you, Ecology Center. Thank you, citizens of Glen Ellen.

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