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Fort Ross rich with historical, cultural significance

  • Fort Ross State Park

Sitting here, watching the impossible happen all around, I have Fort Ross on my mind.

The news is that the state will "close" Annadel (however THAT could be accomplished!) as well as General Vallejo's old "Castle in the Wilderness," the Petaluma Adobe. It's hard not to be fearful that the oldest and most important historical site north of San Francisco Bay may well be next.

The fate of the Russian fort has been a concern most of the summer. There's even been a couple of Fort Ross "jokes," if you can call them that, like the comment made by a friend whose pragmatism outweighs her sense of history. "If they close Fort Ross," she says, "We will lose the best free restroom stop between Jenner and Sea Ranch."

That's one way to look at it.

In a more serious vein, historians from at least two nations look at it as a cultural imperative.

They believe that Fort Ross Historic Park is far too important to close. And the fact that it appears to be on the short list (whatever and wherever that "list" is) means that "saving" Fort Ross — that is keeping it open — has become a cause c??re.

I know that California's parks, particularly its historic parks, are all unique. But Fort Ross' importance reaches way beyond Sonoma County and even California's history.

This southernmost outpost of Imperial Russia, dating back two centuries — the earliest north of San Francisco Bay — has been telling its remarkable stories to visitors since 1903, when the state took possession of its weathered buildings, even then nearly 100 years old.

The stories from the Russian years at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross (1809-1841) involve a cadre of botanists, naturalists, agronomists, archeologists, artists and even a future saint.

Robin Joy, the park's interpretive specialist who has spent more than a decade on the staff, describes her reaction to the threatened closure list as "in shock."

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