Cotati Creek Critters began in 1998, when the City of Cotati completed a bike path and built a bike bridge over the Laguna de Santa Rosa channel just north of East Cotati Avenue. For the construction to take place, soil had to be removed and fill and asphalt brought in, and in the process the banks of the channel were laid bare.
Biologist Maria Alvarez and Linda Christopher were members of Cotati’s Community & Environment Commission which had already been involved with tree planting projects elsewhere in Cotati. Together with local residents including Jenny Blaker (now Outreach Coordinator for CCC) they asked the City of Cotati and Sonoma County Water Agency for permission to plant native trees and shrubs along the banks of the Laguna channel. From 1998-2004, Cotati Creek Critters was an all-volunteer group that met on the second Saturday of every month from October to April to plant and maintain native plants along the Laguna de Santa Rosa just north of E. Cotati Avenue, then later along Cotati Creek in De Lano Park, and along the Laguna channel in Putnam Park, off Myrtle Avenue. A few hundred trees and shrubs were planted and the group was involved with several Earth Day events.
In 2003, Wade Belew (now Stewardship Coordinator) and Jenny Blaker took a class in Watershed Ecology & Restoration at the Santa Rosa Junior College, taught by Karen Gaffney (then of Circuit Rider Productions Inc.) and Bob Coey of the California Department of Fish & Game. As a class project, they walked the three miles of the Laguna channel that runs through Cotati, took photos, studied old maps and aerial photos, did vegetation surveys and drew cross sections, to produce a “Baseline Assessment & Habitat Enhance Feasibility Study of the Cotati Reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa.” Many studies of the Laguna de Santa Rosa had been written in the previous decades but none included the Cotati reach.
In January 2005, Cotati Creek Critters, with the sponsorship of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and help from Sonoma County Water Agency, the City of Cotati, and other experts, and letters of support from community members and organizations, applied for an Urban Stream Restoration grant from the California Department of Water Resources. Out of a total of 91 applications, 17 were accepted, of which only 10 were fully funded. Cotati Creek Critters was one of these, and we received a grant of $169,000 to involve the local community in planting native trees and shrubs along a 1-mile section of the upper reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa from funds authorized by Proposition 40. This new grant-funded project was launched on September 2005, with speeches by local officials, a volunteer workday, and a celebratory lunch.
The City of Cotati allowed the use of City Well lot #2 as a base of operations, and a shipping container was installed to store tools and equipment. Gradually a collection of tools was built up, including many used tools which have been refurbished (see Appropriate Technology). A plant nursery was established, with plants in cell tubes and tree pots waiting to be planted the following season. (See Resources for sources of plants). Wade Belew (Stewardship Coordinator) and Jenny Blaker (Outreach Coordinator) made over 50 presentations to citizens groups, classes, etc.
Over 100 volunteer planting days were held, including Creek Stewardship Days (formerly called Community Planting Days) and work days organized specifically for certain groups. These have included environmental education organizations Acorn Soupe, and the STRAW project (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed, previously a project of the Bay Institute, now a project of PRBO), working with local schools, teachers, and students; student classes and groups from Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, including JUMP, Freshmans Interest Groups, a Hutchins Liberal Studies class, fraternities and sororities, the Biology Club and the Outdoor Pursuits group; the Laguna Keepers, the Rohnert Park Active 20/30 Club, the Kiwanis, the Rancho Cotati High School Interact Club boy and girl scouts, Congregation Ner Shalom, and even the Cotati Coop Nursery School. Staff of Christopher Joseph & Associates, an environmental and consulting firm, came for two 8-hour workdays. The Frogsong Cohousing Community has adopted a section of the Laguna channel closest to where they live. Many individuals, families, and friends have joined as regular volunteers, some of them coming to almost every workday, others occasionally.
In 2006 we received funding from a City of Santa Rosa Environmental Enhancement grant to establish an understory planting project with native grasses, sedges, and rushes, and in 2009 we began to receive funding directly from the Sonoma County Water Agency. Other organizations have generously donated to support aspects of the project - see About Critters.
In 2006 we launched the monthly Inside/Outside Nature Education series to introduce local residents to nature “in their own backyards,” to develop a sense of place, and to raise awareness of how our daily actions impact the environment around us. The series, featuring local experts, includes “inside” presentations in fall and winter and “outside” guided walks, field trips and bicycle rides in spring and summer. Every event is complemented by an article published in the local newspaper, the Community Voice. See Press & Media section. Over the years this series has provided opportunities for collaboration with organizations such as the California Native Plant Society, Fairfield Osborne Preserve, Pepperwood Preserve, Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, Sonoma Ecology Center, Cotati Historical Society, and others.
In 2009 we received three awards, including the Outstanding Environment Education Award from the Sonoma County Conservation Coalition, SCAYD’s Environmental volunteer award, and Jenny received an award from the National Women’s History Project. Wade Belew became President Elect of the California Native Grasslands Association.
In the fall of 2009 we were joined by our first intern from an Environmental Studies program at SSU and in spring 2009 we launched a more formal internship program with six students participating. In summer 2009 we were one of many environmental restoration groups in the county to host a team of young people for a six weeks summer jobs program, the Summer Youth Ecology Corps. One of our SSU interns was recommended by CCC and hired to lead the crew working on our project.
In October 2009 three interpretive signs were installed along the Laguna between Ladybug Park and Marsh Way. These had initially been agreed as part of the DWR funded project. We celebrated with an Open House and the signs were unveiled by Assemblyman Jared Huffman.
In 2010, despite receiving funding for the first time from the USFWS Partnerships for Fish & Wildlife Program, we faced a major reduction in funding overall, down to one third of previous levels. Consequently CCC cut back the number of Creek Stewardship Days to just one per month, and virtually eliminated special group workdays. As a result, many more volunteers, sometimes over 50 or 60, came to each workday, and over 100 volunteers participated in the April 2011 Trash Pick Up Day. At the same time, the Inside/Outside Nature Educations series attendance also expanded, and we outgrew the classroom at the Cotati Community Center, holding two events at the Cotati Room attended by approximately 80 people. One of these was our first fundraiser, a showing of “Dirt! The Movie” and the other, held in collaboration with the Cotati Historical Society, was a presentation by Arthur Dawson of the Sonoma Ecology Center on the historical ecology of the Laguna de Santa Rosa. We continued our internship program with SSU.
In Fall 2011, with funding from Sonoma County Water Agency, we expanded to a new project site, further downstream from Gravenstein Way to Commerce Blvd. We also launched a corresponding new neighborhood outreach program. In November, 2011, we received a grant from the Rose Foundation for Communities & the Environment for outreach, environmental education and volunteer recruitment, and specifically to support a new partnership with St. Joseph’s Health System – Sonoma County – to enable us to extend our neighborhood outreach to the Latino community. Together we planted 350 new native trees and shrubs at this site as well as continuing to hold regular Creek Stewardship Days to maintain the original 1-mile project site.
In December 2012 our contract and funding with Sonoma County Water Agency came to an end.
The Gravenstein Way to Commerce Blvd. site will be maintained by the Laguna Foundation www.lagunadesantarosa.org under contract to the Sonoma County Water Agency.
As from January 2013, the 1-mile site from Liman Way to the bicycle/pedestrian bridge will be maintained by Sonoma County Water Agency under their Stream Maintenance program.
For further information on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s stream maintenance policies see:
Community Voice:_SCWA Will Continue Cotati Creek Critters Work In Laguna