Education center helps public understand wetlands

  • Laura Hammer shows off Jazz, a Great-horned owl and Toots, a Northern Pygmy Owl to an owl presentation at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation open house on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (John Burgess / Press Democrat)

People are flocking like waterfowl to the Laguna de Santa Rosa two years after the foundation dedicated to restoring and enhancing the 254-square-mile watershed opened a new public educational center.

The barn-like Great Blue Heron Hall is now playing host to a wide range of nature classes and talks, not just for visiting schoolchildren, but also for the general public.

The Laguna De Santa Rosa Foundation has been ramping up its educational programs, offering at least two classes or lectures each month aimed at helping people better understand the wildlife and ecosystem of the vast wetland that stretches some 22 miles along the Santa Rosa Plain from Cotati to the Russian River in Forestville.

A workshop on Saturday in which local artist, biologist and storyteller Ane Carla Rovetta will show how to make chalks, paints, charcoals and inks from natural materials, is already full.

Some people showed up March 8 to meet a Great Horned Owl and learn more about these important predators, including how to identify different owls by their hoots.

The foundation holds regular open houses on the second Saturday of each month featuring special activities and guided tours of the whole Laguna Environmental Center, set on a low knoll just off Occidental Road between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Here, with its newly restored 1870s farmhouse framed by big canary palms that serves as headquarters for the foundation, are a number of natural attractions for visitors, including interpretive kiosks, gardens, an observation deck for bird watching, a small pond that showcases native Laguna plant life, a century-old hop barn and picnic areas.

Under construction now is a children's "playscape" with all natural structures to climb on and explore, like logs, boulders and a living willow tunnel to crawl through.

"We've always led walks on the Laguna trail, the Sebastopol preserve and to the delta pond rookery," said Christine Fontaine, director of education programs. "But now that we have the center we are having people here and have increased attendance at all of our events.

Last year, some 2,000 people participated in workshops, classes and events, everything from stargazing parties to storytelling. Experts have come in to lead workshops on bird songs, woodlands, dragonflies, mountain lions, basketmaking and building a wildlife habitat in your backyard.

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