Russian River flooding shrinks Mother's Beach in Forestville
Mother’s Beach in Forestville, known to draw several hundred visitors on the hottest summer days, would have a tough time accommodating that size of crowd so far this year, thanks to powerful Russian River flows that have diminished the beach substantially.
The gravelly shoreline usually offers an expanse of real estate extending well into the river channel as it bends around the Forest Hills neighborhood. But the popular beach today is a mere strip of land along the southern bank, a shock to both regular visitors and those destined to flock to the river on a summer week like this one.
“This is pretty small,” Forestville resident Ken Dale, 70, said during a recent outing with extended family, including a little girl splashing around in an inner tube at his feet. “I would say it shrank a lot, but you know, you can never predict what the river will do.”
On either side of him, friends and family groups had claimed territory several feet away from each other, but far closer to the river’s edge than they might otherwise. So narrow was the available strip of beach that each group to stake out a spot effectively blocked access to the adjacent water.
The beach’s contraction appears to be the result in part of abundant winter and late-season rains that have left more water in the river’s main stem than is typical for this time of year, with flows reaching higher up the streambank, said Scott Bolin, supervising park ranger for Sonoma County Regional Parks.
“It’s kind of the same everywhere else, even like Sunset Beach,” Bolin said. “The beach just hasn’t been as big.”
But at Mother’s Beach, the contours of the river bed and beach also appear to have been changed substantially by powerful flood waters that in February sent the river to its highest level in about a quarter century, causing substantial flooding along the lower reaches of the river as well as erosion along its banks.
Dale noted, for instance, that he and his family usually walk to a swimming spot near home but the embankment is now so washed out and steep that it’s not safe for the little ones. “You can’t do it,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Along the river, trees have been undermined and washed out. At Mom’s, there are places on the embankment where new material has been deposited, and where it’s been cut away — in some cases, washing away the back fences of those who live above the beach on River Drive.
“The flood really did a number on us this year,” said one of them, Pete Gilmore. “I think just the shear force of the water removed a lot of gravel.”
“The river really has shifted around,” said Don McEnhill, who leads the Russian Riverkeeper stewardship and conservation nonprofit, headquartered in Healdsburg. “What we saw through both Alexander Valley, all the way around the Fitch Mountain reach and into the middle reach was most gravel bars lost volumes this flood.”
One gravel bar south of the Jimtown Bridge lost 5 or 6 feet of elevation. The loss there and from Mother’s Beach is just accumulated somewhere else in the river, he said.