River Paddle Day 1

Paddling the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz on kayaks, canoes and SUP, part of the Coastal Watershed Council and City of Santa Cruz effort to rehabilitate the river.

by Hilltromper staff

Feb. 15, 2014—The morning after Valentine's Day, several dozen people gathered in a parking lot behind the old Royal Taj (now Maharaja) restaurant on Soquel and Riverside and lugged their canoes, kayaks and SUP boards down a grassy embankment to the edge of the San Lorenzo River. There they put in for three hours of exploration up and down the city of Santa Cruz's main waterway, an activity that's usually banned by city ordinance.

There, just a few yards from some of the city's main thoroughfares, paddlers found a river teeming with life: rafts of coots floating past islands thick with young willows, pairs of mergansers diving for food, black-and-white buffleheads standing out against the gray-green of the water on an overcast day.

"It's a transforming experience," said Peter Campbell, an avid sea kayaker who typically plies the waters of the Bay. "You get out of this urban environment"—he waved a hand at the Soquel Avenue bridge overhead—"and there you are in the river. As sort of scrubby as it looks, it's really nice up close."

Ben Lomond resident Carl Reuter, a river kayaking enthusiast, says he and his friends often paddle the upper San Lorenzo River, where kayaking is not only legal but challenging. "It's a little-known fact that there's Class 4 rapids up there," Reuter said, adding that he'd like to be able to do a "source-to-sea" trip down the San Lorenzo—something that would only be possible if the prohibition on recreational paddling were lifted inside the Santa Cruz city limits.

Eileen Cross, a communications specialist with the Santa Cruz Water Department, said the day's paddle was a reminder of an inspiring experience she had several years ago touring the restored Los Angeles River, which has been a catalyst for neighborhood transformation all along its course. Advocates have had to negotiate with rival gangs to establish pocket parks, for example, along a waterway that remains essentially encased in concrete. "And we have a lot more to work with," she said.

Becca Moeller said she and her husband had a great time in their homemade wooden kayaks. Moeller, who built the kayaks with her sister after models they'd used when they were kids, said the template came from a 1950s issue of Boys Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts. Moeller demonstrated how the craft folded up into a narrow beam after the simple wooden braces were removed. Asked what the vessels' names meant, she answered that "Robbie Lynn" was for the sisters' husbands, who "refused to help us," and "Dos Lados" ("Two Sides") was named after the discovery, by trial and error, of what is required in the bonding agent application.

This was the second time in four months paddlers have been allowed on the San Lorenzo River south of the Highway 1 overpass (body contact with the river remains prohibited). The first San Lorenzo River Paddle Day, in October 2013, was a huge success that drew dozens of paddlers and local luminaries out for a sunny afternoon of river play. Organized by the Coastal Watershed Council and the city of Santa Cruz, the October event was conceived as a pilot exercise to gauge interest in lifting the ordinance prohibiting recreational paddling—and the soft launch of an effort to reclaim and rehabilitate the San Lorenzo River.

That effort coalesced and launched in a bigger way in January as the San Lorenzo River Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits and local government agencies. Several weeks ago the SLRA and Coastal Watershed Council announced the first two days of the River Paddle Series. The Feb. 15 and March 15 paddles will, via post-paddle surveys, inform the work of city staff that is now reviewing the city's river recreation ordinance. "It's hard to do it if you're just sitting in a room," said Coastal Watershed Council Stewardship Coordinator Laurie Egan. "This way they get some input about what works and what doesn't."

Both River Paddle Series days in February and March are filled up, but check Hilltromper events or the Coastal Watershed Council calendar for further announcements.


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To see what happened to the river birds who nest, rest and feed in the river, when the paddlers take over and occupy the river, go to


That's why there will be a study, rather than a series of anecdotes, about the results of paddlers on the river! We're looking forward to the findings of the advisory group formed last week to look at this issue.