The shifting sands across the mouth of the Russian River parted just in time Wednesday for worried souls who, after weeks of watching the river rise up the bank, feared their beaches might disappear for the July Fourth weekend.
Some even planned to stage a last-ditch, Wednesday night "clam digging" party they hoped would "encourage" the natural dam to disintegrate, permitting the river to recede into the Pacific in time for Independence Day beach festivities.
But Mother Nature did the job for them early Wednesday morning, opening a channel in the sandbar formed periodically by the ocean surf near Jenner. As the river resumed its journey to the ocean, it revealed expanses of river beach not seen for many days.
In Villa Grande, an enclave of year-round and weekend homes west of Monte Rio whose residents formed a nonprofit to buy the Patterson Point community beach four years ago, there was celebration Wednesday on the eve of their annual July Fourth parade and reading of the Declaration of Independence on the beach.
Over the weekend, as large portions of the beach remained under water, it was clear the event that sometimes draws more than 300 people would not be possible — at least, not on the beach, said Rich Homer, president of the Friends of Villa Grande.
"I have never seen the beach disappear," said neighbor Roberto Estevez.
Seeing the water recede Wednesday and expose yards of beach was a huge relief, they said.
"I'm definitely happy it (the river outlet) is opened," said nearby resident Erin McKinny, who was celebrating her birthday with friends on the beach.
But the interests of river folks were divided somewhat as the holiday approached.
Freeing the river to make its way into the ocean allows for wide beaches, but leaves the river far shallower for swimming and boating over the popular Independence Day holiday.