Bay Nature magazineWinter 2010


Getting Closer to the Water in Petaluma

January 1, 2010

“There is nothing–absolutely nothing–half as much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” said the rat in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The pastime of messing around in boats is one of the things that David Yearsley, executive director of the Friends of the Petaluma River, wants to share with Petaluma youth at the Petaluma River Heritage Center.

The Heritage Center is a work in progress that Yearsley and others are developing near Steamer Landing Park on the McNear Peninsula just a five-minute bike ride from downtown Petaluma and within walking distance of the Bay Trail. The building is a barnlike, century-old livery stable that was saved when the city revitalized its downtown area.

The Heritage Center sits between the Petaluma River and McNear Channel, a manmade waterway once used commercially. Plans are in the works to restore a wetland and install a ramp and dock here, so kids can learn about the natural world around them and have a safe place for watery adventures. Volunteers will also teach boating and boatbuilding skills to both kids and adults. The center already has a small flotilla of boats, including a tule canoe built recently by volunteers, and will eventually house a permanent exhibit about the area’s maritime history and the importance of tidal sloughs and estuaries. (The 16-mile-long Petaluma River is actually a tidal slough, not a river.)

“The story of the Petaluma River and how it helped to settle the North Bay needs to be preserved and told,” says Yearsley, “not just through museums but by using the resources of the river.” Education, access, and conservation are the guiding goals for the Friends of the Petaluma River.

For information on upcoming Petaluma River events, including a spring Heritage Fair in May 2010, go to

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.

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