The Petaluma River Park group has hope for the future of the project

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Two years ago, a group of Petaluma friends and spouses saw their dream of establishing their own community park space begin to come true when they raised enough money to purchase 24 acres near the peninsula. McNear, a property they hoped would one day connect residents on all sides of the city.

Flash forward, the group now known as the Petaluma River Park Foundation is making strides in transforming open space to reflect “a place for everyone” while providing a connection to nature, art and culture. community.

“It’s such an energetic and incredible project and the people associated with it are all extremely generous human beings who truly want Petaluma to be the best it can be,” said Marge Limbert, Director of Development, Fundraising and of community involvement.

In November 2020, members of the foundation purchased the D Street property across from SMART Station, with the help of donations from 400 community members, who together raised $1.3 million.

In March 2021, the Petaluma River Park Foundation secured a $1 million grant from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District to help complete its strategic plan and begin improving the one-mile loop trail of the park.

Darling Gonzalez, who co-founded the nonprofit Petaluma River Park with her husband David Duskin, said they had always dreamed of founding an association.

“We just thought we were going to do it later, once our kids got older. But the opportunity came early, Gonzalez said. “(We) love this city and just want to make sure this property stays public and everyone should enjoy it.”

Since purchasing the land, the group has invested in planning work and brought together a coalition of 14 local nonprofit organizations to determine how they will gather community feedback on the park. They plan to do this through school visits and local events so that people of all ages are involved. The group also organizes a walk in the park on the first Saturday of each month. Solicit community feedback is expected to be a two-year process.

“We can’t do a ton of park building (yet) because we need to hear from people before it starts,” Duskin said. “Otherwise you ask people what they think even though you’ve already made all the decisions.”

The construction and maintenance of the project is expected to cost up to $10 million. Currently, the group is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to complete improvements to the park’s bike and pedestrian path, which co-founder and executive director Seair Lorentz described as previously narrow, bumpy and full of holes. from gopher. Any dollar donated, up to $30,000, will be matched by an anonymous group of donors through July 8. Donations can be made at https://www.petalumariverpark.org/donate.

Jorge Servin, Petaluma resident for 17 years and treasurer of the Petaluma River Park Foundation, started out as a donor for the project’s mission, before the group invited him to join the board.

“The more I read about the mission and what they were trying to accomplish, the more it really resonated with me and also aligned with my personal interests,” Servin said in a phone call. “Having the ability to be part of a community to basically build a park for the community, by the community, and have the community have a voice, that really touched me.”

Other plans for the park include an amphitheater and works by artists of all skill levels. Lorentz said eventually a sculpture called Huru by artist Mark di Suvero will be installed in the park. The 55ft sculpture was last displayed in a showcase of the Abstract Expressionist’s work at Crissy Field.

“Art is central to our mission and our programming here,” Lorentz said. “We think this will go a long way to help raise awareness around the park and bring people here from outside of Petaluma.”

The park project will also focus on restoring and preserving the area’s natural resources and wildlife habitat, with the group looking to plant at least 100 new native trees, which are currently growing in a nursery on private property. near. Foundation leaders also have their eyes on sea level rise and are working with environmental consultants to plan for potential impacts.

“The first thing we want to do is stabilize the shoreline here because there’s quite a bit of erosion, which is pushing more silt into the river, forcing dredging even sooner than we already should,” Lorentz said. . “Restoring native and wetland-adapted plants along the coastline is at the heart of what we do.

The park site is adjacent to Steamer Landing Park, which was once home to one of the largest homeless encampments in the city before it was vacated in early June. Duskin said the group is working with the Downtown Streets and COTS team to work with residents deemed unprotected and to keep park users safe.

“We want our homeless population to use the park during the day,” Duskin said. “They are part of our community and we said from the start that if they weren’t using the park during the day, we made a mistake, if they felt pushed away in any way.”

Also at issue is the Oyster Cove mixed-use development, which includes 132 townhouses and commercial space near the McNear Canal. The project was discussed at a planning commission meeting on Tuesday, but has still not received City Council approval.

“We’re having really good conversations about how our two projects can grow together in a really positive way,” Lorentz said. “This project will be the new gateway to the river park, and our main goal is to make sure that it feels public, that it has a loose and very welcoming design that attracts people, says that there has a park here.”

Overall, members of the foundation are excited to see how the park is being designed to hopefully benefit generations to come, and said volunteers and contributors are by far the “magic sauce” of the project. .

“As soon as you meet people, you’re friends for life,” Gonzalez said. “It’s like a family. And we think we’re never going to move, because that’s all. It is the house.”

Amelia Parreira is an editor for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.

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