Photo © Bob Dyer
Less than two miles from downtown Petaluma, California, the Petaluma Wetlands are 500 acres, with trails through or adjacent to a variety of habitats ranging from tidal salt marshes to freshwater marshes. The contiguous wetlands are Alman Marsh, Shollenberger Park and Ellis Creek. To the west a portion of the trail system parallels the Petaluma River and beyond it there are hills clustered with native oaks. To the east lies Sonoma Mountain, once a volcano, millions of years ago.
200 species of birds have been identified in the wetlands and over 100 plant species. Over 30 species of ducks and geese use the wetlands' food and shelter during the migratory season. Additionally, over 25 species of shorebirds feed in the tidal marshes and around the perimeter of the central seasonal pond at Shollenberger. Immediately across the river from Shollenberger there is a heron/egret colony usually active from April-July. If active, the colony normally has more than 60 nests of Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron.
The wetlands provide over seven miles of trails and are used daily by hundreds of people. Individual trails vary in length from 1/3 mile to over 2 miles. They provide a natural experience in what is otherwise an urban setting. Parts of the wetlands are dual purpose. Shollenberger's central pond is used periodically for "dredge spoils" from the Petaluma River. Ellis Creek opened in mid-2009 as a state-of-the-art water recycling facility and 30 acres serve as polishing wetlands.
A habitat restoration project is underway removing invasive weeds and introducing native plants.
Visitors use the park trails to bird watch, walk dogs, exercise, ride their bikes, eat their lunch or just enjoy a relaxing stroll. Docent-led tours are offered the second Saturday of each month at 9:00 A.M. (Shollenberger entrance) from October-June.
The wetlands are open to the public throughout the year. It enjoys a typical California climate with no snow, but a rainy season that usually is from November through May. During the summer it can get hot but there is little humidity.
Actually, the bird watching is best during the rainy season, especially from December-May with the many migratory birds and nesting of over 20 species (many resident). A wetlands bird species list, and trail guide are available at the Shollenberger entrance.
Fees: No fees for use of trail system or parking.
Trails are generally flat although only one portion of the trail (at Shollenberger) is paved. Unpaved trails would be difficult for wheelchairs during the rainy season. Certain parts of the unpaved trail may be under several inches of water after heavy rains.
Dogs are allowed on almost all trails, except one, if properly leashed.