Float House project hopes to provide everyone access to Petaluma River

Petaluma is a place where literally the river runs through it, and it doesn't take long before the charm of the Petaluma river pulls you in. Getting on the water, however, is harder than you think.

Greg Sabourin, Executive Director of Petaluma Small Craft Center, took us out on the water. He showed us "the heart of Petaluma's downtown: Victorian buildings, modern buildings, Spanish style."

But the challenge for the float house project is not the water or the view. As Maggie Hohle, a volunteer for PSCC, said, "it's just an amazing recreational resource. It's incredible. There's nothing like it anywhere."

The challenge is getting on the water. There is a limited number of docks and no hourly watercraft rentals. 

Most people do not have the access to get to the river easily, said Morena Carvahlo, a board member for PSCC. "You have to join a club, right? You have to join the rowing club or the outrigger club or the kayak club, which is also great. But it's a different activity."

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That's because the river has been all business historically, with commercial and industrial businesses all along the waterfront, said Sabourin. 

"Up until like five or six years ago, this area was still looked at as a business, not recreation," said Phil Herve, President of Petaluma Small Craft Center.

But when you start looking at it as recreation, it seems like the possibilities are endless.  

"You can go 13 miles to the mouth of the river. And then you can go from the mouth of the river, it empties into San Pablo Bay," Sabourin explained. "And then you can also go down to the top of San Francisco bay into the city."

But how do you solve the access problem?  

"It's always been a dream of us (as a) group together, that we would have a rental dock here with different watercraft available," said Herve. 

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That dream launched a journey by the non-profit, the Petaluma Small Craft Center. More than a decade later and with almost a million dollars in fundraising, the Float House project became a reality.

The dock is ready. Kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and even electric boats are all on standby at a warehouse. The group said everyone is invited to use the water.

This would involve camps and getting kids access because "one of our core missions is to provide river access for all," said Sabourin. 

It is easy to imagine what could be and what will be.  

"With the smart train station a block away, people from Marin and Sonoma county can come here, spend the day here, (and) rent a boat for an hour or two, which no one has done to date. And (they) have time to have lunch or dinner or stay the night, "said Herve.  

The wildlife will be a part of the experience. Sabourin noted the tremendous amount of geese, egrets, herons, pipers, and all sorts of birds along the river. 

With the tide coming in and out, the view changes every day. "You can go out and by the time you turn around, come back, it feels like a whole different day," said Hohle. 

It's an exciting time and for this group, a dream realized. "It's been it has been a dream for me," said Herve. "And I just kept saying, that when, not if, when this is completed, the people will come." 

The Float House is set to open in July.