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Paddling Into the Future on the Russian River

Paddling Into the Future on the Russian River

A member of the Kashia Band guides and educates visitors about the wonders of Sonoma County waters

“I love coming out on the river with my granddaughter,” says Russian River kayaking guide and environmental educator Suki Waters. “My grandmother and I used to walk this same beach.”

Waters is a member of Sonoma County’s Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in Jenner by the Sea. As owner of the tour operator WaterTreks, she talks about the area in this Outbound Collective video, and offers a glimpse of how travelers can help keep these waters beautiful for future generations.

The Back Story

Just about a mile from the Pacific Ocean, the Russian River Estuary offers both a river and ocean experience. This intersection of fresh and salt water supports a wide range of wildlife, including harbor seals, shorebirds, otters, bald eagles, and even foxes and mink. The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians has lived in this region for time immemorial, with homelands stretching south from the Gualala River down to Duncan’s Landing, near Bodega Bay, and then about 30 miles inland to the Dry Creek Valley. Today, their membership totals fewer than 1,000, and members live in Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa counties.

As part of both Sonoma Coast State Park and the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Russian River Estuary is both a Marine Protected Area and State Managed Marine Recreation Area. That means you can play here, but you can’t extract anything—as in, no fishing.

Paddle the Area Yourself

Visitors can rent kayaks, paddles, and life vests from WaterTreks to explore the waters solo; you can book gear for a few hours, a half day, or a full day. Or book one of the tours that combines guided kayaking with a few easy hikes along the beaches. The typically four-hour tours come with gear plus a dry bag and water-resistant outerwear if needed.

Choose from available options including the Island Walk—which focuses on native flora and fauna and Native American culture on the river‘s Penny Island—or the Goat Rock Beach walk, which includes more wildlife and a detailed look at Arched Rock, which made a cameo in the movie Goonies.

You can explore in the late day and evening too. WaterTrek offers sunset and full moon tours, as well as a Bioluminescent Night Tour (typically from mid-August to early October), when you can see fish, seals, and other marine life swimming among the bioluminescent waters.

Beyond learning, you can pitch in too. Waters regularly collects plankton from the ocean to help the California Department of Health Services track algal blooms. Take the Plankton Sample Morning tour and you can help her with that errand while learning about red tides and bioluminescent plankton.

Where to Stay

The Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park features a 200-room hotel with a modern aesthetic, as well as a casino and spa. Less than an hour from Jenner, the resort is owned by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which is affiliated with both the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo tribes.

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