Anchors Aweigh: Local Group Wants to Take Back the San Lorenzo River

Can Santa Cruz make the San Lorenzo a hot spot for tourists and locals, the way cities such as Austin and Kansas City have?

Coastal Watershed Council's Greg Pepping talks about the Perma-Grin from kayaking on the river.
Coastal Watershed Council's Greg Pepping talks about the Perma-Grin from kayaking on the river.
Right now the San Lorenzo River cuts through the heart of downtown Santa Cruz like an angry slash, more feared than appreciated.

Some fear the power it showed in 1955 when it spewed mountain water over its banks and flooded businesses with four feet of water. Others fear the homeless people who use it as a living room and the ne'er-do-wells who cast its shores for drugs or victims.

How to deal with it has been a mystery since before city was founded in 1850. People settled around the hillside Mission and the racetrack and nightlife in Branciforte, but they only used the banks of the river to graze animals. 

Tuesday a group announced a campaign to turn the river into a successful place for recreation, tourism, commerce and nature -- to take it back, although they didn't use those words. They talked about how other cities have made their rivers highpoints for locals and tourists including Kansas City, Austin and San Antonio.

With $100,000 in its coffers The Coastal Watershed Council is organizing an alliance to make the river a place of "pride, restoration and recreation."

"Use dissuades disuse," said the Council's Director Greg Pepping, echoing a theme of Santa Cruz government, which has, for example, opened a frisbee golf course in an area unsavory people were using for sleeping in the daytime. "We need to get people using the river. If they don't, we've ceded it to a different group. I think it's cleaner than people think. I think it's cleaner than its reputation."

Pepping said a group of 50 people who used it in November on kayaks and paddleboards had "perma-grin" from the joy this piece of nature could provide.

The river has also confused city government. On the city's books is a law forbidding boaters from using it, but no one knows why it was passed. The city council voided it for the kayak day and is looking into changing it permanently.

Tuesday's meeting brought city officials into discussions with naturalists and planners. Among them were Mayor Lynn Robinson and councilman Don Lane, as well as City Manager Martin Bernal and Assistant City Manager Scott Collins. 

At one point Pepping asked the hundred or so people gathered at the Paradox Hotel to post notes on maps of the river suggesting things they'd like to see there. They included kayaks, better lights, concession stands and boat rentals.

This is the first group, they said, to build a team of locals to study the river and make plans for it. The organizations involved include: the Museum of Natural History, the city and county of Santa Cruz, the San Lorenzo Valley Women's Club, and the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County.

Steve Premo January 09, 2014 at 11:11 AM
I suspect people fear the power the river showed in 1982 more than the power it showed in 1955. The storms of '55 showed the need for levies; the storm of '82 showed that even the levies won't keep the river from washing out bridges. Also, I found interesting the comment that "We need to get people using the river. If they don't, we've ceded it to a different group." A group of what, if not people?
Onboard Paul January 09, 2014 at 11:48 AM
We really need to dig out for better water flow, between Highway 1 and the Water street bridge. There is a good flow by the Tannery but after that it slows.
Steve Premo January 09, 2014 at 11:55 AM
The river slows after the tannery because the tide comes up the river, sometimes as far as Highway 1. It's always going to be slow there. The important thing is for the lower part of the river to have enough capacity to keep the water within the levies during huge storms.
Jillian Steinberger January 09, 2014 at 12:06 PM
There are two *great* events that directly pertain to this (http://kresge.ucsc.edu/commonground, scroll to 1/10 and 1/11). Both are by Brock Dolman of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center's Water Institute (oaec.org). He is a brilliant and entertaining speaker with incisive analysis and has a great TEDX talk. He's a local boy who now works internationally. On Saturday morning, he will give this talk: "The Story of the San Lorenzo: Past, Present & Future," downtown. On Friday night, his talk "Basins of Relations" is at Kresge Hall at 8:00. Paradigm shifting! With humor sprinkled throughout.
Old Timer January 10, 2014 at 11:48 AM
Definitely deep enough for SUPs, from Laurel St to the Railroad trestle bridge. :) The water quality from all the poop upstream is a consideration though. :(


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