This beautiful fall weather is one of the reasons I enjoy this time of year, especially after a rather lackluster summer of fog and grey skies.  With the days getting shorter and last weekend’s rainy day reminder of what is to come I decided to ditch the gym yesterday and go exploring in the Petaluma Wetlands. 

The Petaluma Wetlands encompasses the areas of Alman Marsh, Shollenberger Park, and Ellis Creek, covering some 500 acres and a variety of habitats.  Linked together by a seven plus mile trail system the area boasts an abundance of wildlife and is well worth a leisurely stroll with a pair of binoculars or a telephoto camera (Read: Shollenberger Park through Binoculars).  But, yesterday I was aiming for a good workout and set out briskly from the Shollenberger parking lot in the direction of Ellis Creek. 

As I shuffled along the trail I still managed to glimpse the many birds that live in or visit the wetlands throughout the year, and heard little earthbound creatures scoot into the brush when I passed.  The park was also alive with plenty of people.  There were school groups peering through binoculars, parents running with strollers, fast walkers, slow walkers, and happy dogs. 

The trail to Ellis Creek juts off of the northeast corner of the Shollenberger loop and wraps around towards the water recycling facility.  This was my first time walking the three mile network of paths that circumambulate the four polishing ponds; nature happily working away to help us rid our water of impurities.  If it weren’t for the information boards explaining the process and the water recycling facility buildings in the distance you’d never know what was going on there.  I saw several photographers toting their long telephoto lenses and tripods around the cattail laden ponds; patiently positioning themselves for the perfect photo. 

With my time running out I hustled around “pond D”, up alongside the grove Eucalyptus trees, and headed back towards the Shollenberger loop.  The trail created a kind of channel in the dense vegetation between Ellis Creek and Shollenberger Park.  Little yellow flowers were breathing their last breath of color as the seasons changed.  Birds were sunning and foraging along the shore of Shollenberger’s dredge spoils pond; another example of nature and human necessity happily coexisting.   It was an exhilarating walk and in less than an hour I’d had a good workout without even noticing that I had broken a sweat.  The air was fresh and the scenery was beautiful; a great improvement over mindlessly trudging along on a treadmill while staring at parked cars through the window!  Who needs a gym?

For my next walk at the Petaluma Wetlands I’m going to bump it up a few notches and tackle the whole trail system. Starting at the marina, turning north around the Shollenberger loop (bathrooms available in Shollenberger parking lot), heading to Ellis Creek, weaving around the polishing ponds (more bathrooms available in the Ellis Creek parking lot), back to the Shollenberger loop turning south to go the long way around this time, then the final mile back to the marina.  That should be about eight miles. Wish me luck!

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To visit the Petaluma Wetlands:  There is parking at the three entrances – the Petaluma Marina (off of Lakeville Highway), Shollenberger Park (on Cader Lane off of S. McDowell Blvd), and at Ellis Creek (on Cypress Drive off of S. McDowell.  Look for maps and wildlife information at the kiosk near the Shollenberger parking lot.  Information boards are scattered throughout Ellis Creek.  Public bathrooms are in the Shollenberger and Ellis Creek parking lots.

For more information visit the Petaluma Wetlands Alliance.