Posted: 08/05/2002
by Jason Robertson


The "Take Back Our River Day", a paddlers' act of civil disobedience on the Russian River scheduled for August 17th, will not be held. Tom Meldau, President of the Sequoia Paddling Club, long-time AW member and volunteer, in meeting with representatives of Syar Industries has negotiated access to the historically used path around the county-installed dam at Memorial Beach in Healdsburg. The fence that the gravel company has installed will remain, but a gate manned from 8 am to 4 pm daily will allow paddlers to traverse the gravel company's property.

When Meldau found out on July 2 that the portage path was blocked by the fence that had gone up the week before, he immediately contacted a representative of Sonoma County. He was informed that the county was aware of the fence and that they hoped to find a way to resolve the issue, but that it "will take time". Meldau, indicated that this was not acceptable and went to the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 9th to address the matter further. At that time he cited the federal and state laws that ensure the public the right of way to the Russian River, and stated that he would be pressing for navigational access to be re-established in the most expedient manner.

A canoe trip by Sequoia Paddling Club members down to and around the dam to test the official reaction was planned for July 17th, and announced in articles by the Press Democrat and other local media. On Friday, July 12th, Meldau was contacted by a representative of Syar and a meeting was set up for the next Monday. In the two hour meeting that ensued Meldau observed that the river was, in fact, blocked, not by the gravel company, but by the County's dam and he acknowledged the legitimacy of the company's concern for liability on their property. Ralph Locke, the spokesperson for Syar Industries, then proposed a solution that would allow paddlers to resume passing through their property to circumvent the dam. Subject to approval by Jim Syar, the July 17th protest paddle was canceled and the big August 17th event was put on hold. At 10 am on July 17th the Healdsburg gendarme found that they were the only ones who showed up at the dammed river at Memorial Beach.

With the new gate and sign installed and the attendant on duty, the official opening will be/was celebrated in a brief ceremony attended by Jim Syar, Tom Meldau and other interested persons on Friday, August 2nd. Legal posturing and litigation was avoided and in less than a month, a workable solution with Syar Industries had been established. Meanwhile, officials of Sonoma County will continue to pursue a long term solution with the gravel company, but that will, indeed, "take time".

Meldau encourages everyone to go down this section of the Russian River this summer. The trip from Memorial Beach to Steelhead Beach is eleven miles and is one of the sections that has an ample summertime flow and is void of homes and the usual overabundance of riverside users. The day use fee for the County Parks is $3. For more information on public access on the Russian River or the Sequoia Paddling Club, Meldau can be reached at Mr. Canoe's Paddlesports near Forestville. The telephone number is 707/887-7416 and the e-mail address is
Idaho Rivers United
Kevin Lewis
1565 Rovian St
Boise, ID 83705-4269
Phone: 208-830-4870