The Russian River

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

World class salmon fishery, vacation playground for San Francisco, giant redwoods, Stumptown, and sewer discharge all help describe the beautiful river that flows 110 miles from the hot inland Mendocino County hills before pouring into the ocean near the village of Jenner in Sonoma County. This diverse river flows through chaparral and oak woodlands, fir and redwood forests, drains the second largest freshwater marsh in northern California, the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and provides drinking water for most of Sonoma County as well as receives treated wastewater. Historically, the Pomo people lived along the river. The Russians explored the area in the early 1800s, and the Mexican government claimed the land for their own, dividing the area into large ranchos in the 1840s. In the 1850s the lumber industry moved in, building a mill on the river at Bridgehaven in 1860. The present town of Guerneville was known as Stumptown because the lush groves of immense redwoods growing on the river bank were cut. In 1887 the North Coast Pacific Railroad was extended from Sausalito to Duncans Mills four miles upriver from the coast, making it an important rail center. Tourists soon started arriving on the railroad, and resort camps and hotels were built. Today the railroad is gone but little Duncans Mills is an historic district with several old buildings housing tourist businesses and a small railroad museum.

The quality of the river has declined steadily over the years because of logging, farming, and sewer discharge. Tourism declined from its heyday of big band dances and big hotels to the point that the small towns became somewhat decrepit. In the 1980s, however, tourism made a comeback, and the river towns are reviving along with it. The salmon and steelhead have been declared endangered, prompting local and state agencies to pay more attention. Plans are in the works to protect the river and begin restoration. Huge stubborn problems remain, but the State Legislature passed a budget in 1997 that included $1 million for the Coastal Conservancy to work on access and restoration projects along the Russian River.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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