My son and I spent last Saturday afternoon exploring one of Sebastopol’s two creeks, Zimpher Creek, which as noted in my earlier post, is mostly culverted. While I’ve noticed where it goes in a few places and have checked out the culvert closest to our house, I’d never traced the entire route before.

The Source to Zimpher Drive

With rubber boots strapped to my bicycle and flashlights in my backpack, we cycled to Zimpher Drive, a short street that runs through a subdivision developed in the 1960s located near Brook Haven middle school. Zimpher Drive drops down a few feet from the intersection with Valentine Avenue, then rises again to Covert Lane and this low spot is the closest we could get to the source. As far as we could guess, the spring is under one of the back yards between Viola and Patricia Courts. We couldn’t see the creek at this point, but we could hear it down the storm drain opening and I got a picture of the water flowing.

A first glimpse of the creek at Zimpher Drive

A first glimpse of the creek at Zimpher Drive

On the downstream side, there was another storm sewer and the creek was clearly underground for at least a ways — it apparently passes below the sideyards of the two adjacent houses — but tall trees beyond suggested more surface water.

The Open Waters – Brookside Ave. to Florence Ave.

Wandering down to the cul-de-sac on Brookside Ave., we spotted the riparian corridor with lots of green, even though we couldn’t spot the creek itself. An empty lot further east on Brookside did provide us with a glimpse of the creek, and we got a good look where it meets Murphy Ave. This section appears to be relatively healthy with a good variety of riparian vegetation.

The healthiest-appearing section at Murphy

The healthiest-appearing section at Murphy

Below Murphy, the creek appears to be much more impaired. A concrete half-pipe covered with Himalaya blackberries and a few willows takes it behind the low-income apartments on Bately Court. From the dead end of Neva Street, the last part down to Florence Ave. looks a bit better, but just before Florence, the creek enters a culvert again and doesn’t emerge for half a mile.

Taking the Underground — Florence Ave. to Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetlands Preserve

Florence Ave. crosses a bridge over Zimpher Creek…but there’s no creek visible any longer. A deep culvert passes beneath the old channel and you can hear the creek gurgling down below the grating of an access well. A ghost channel continues along Marys Lane for another block to West Street. A wooden dam on the upstream side of the Florence Ave. bridge shunts water into the well, but some water flows along the otherwise dry ghost creek to a storm drain on the east side of West Street during rainy times.

The ghost creek at Marys Lane

The ghost creek at Marys Lane

Old maps call the creek “Morris Brook” in this stretch after the former owner and developer of the Morris Addition that encompasses the area from Marys Lane to Main Street. No matter the name, the creek is fully hidden in a culvert until it finally emerges near the Laguna on the far side of Morris Street. Only a series of storm drains mark the course as it flows under the Safeway parking lot at Keating, across the corner of the Rite Aid parking lot and then paralleling McKinley Street over to the Sebastopol Cinema parking lot on Laguna Park Way. Much to my son’s annoyance, I insisted on stopping to photograph every storm drain we saw. He was spared further stops after the cinema because the creek flows somewhere under the old apple processing plant grounds and crosses under Morris Ave. south of the sewage pumping plant.

Back in the Open

We took the long way since I wasn’t sure where the creek met the Laguna despite having been there several times before, including a middle of the night First Flush expedition some years ago. The long way resulted in discovery of a group of feral apple trees with decent fruit, so it was worth it.

Zimpher Creek meets the Laguna

Zimpher Creek meets the Laguna

We finally made it to the creek a few yards above its end by way of an unofficial trail that follows the Laguna. The creek has evidently deposited a great deal of silt and gravel at its mouth, creating a delta of sorts that narrows the late summer/fall Laguna down to a very shallow, small stream. Before exploring upstream, we took the opportunity to wade across the Laguna and my son headed for a very small “deserted” island. Despite the murkiness and poor water quality of the Laguna, we spotted thousands of small fish and other aquatic life as we made our way to the island. I thought I spotted a Western pond turtle as it plopped into the water a short distance upstream.

Back on the creek, we thrashed through a wall of Himalaya berry, willow and dogwood. We soon abandoned that approach when we realized the water was too deep for our boots only a few yards upstream. A bypass seemed the smarter option, so we headed out into the open and thrashed through some more brambles and willow below an industrial yard roughly 50 yards west of the Laguna channel. My fantasy of wading into the pipe evaporated when at last we stood before Zimpher Creek as it emerged from a large culvert — which was nearly submerged in the pool dammed by the roots of a  large willow tree. We scrambled downstream for a short distance before retreating before we slipped into the waist-deep water.

Zimpher Creek outfall

Zimpher Creek outfall

I had mixed feelings about finishing our expedition. On the one hand, I was glad to finally understand where Zimpher Creek flowed. On the other hand, the creek is barely living and badly abused even where it flows in the open. I’d guess that very few people even know its there. I wish I could have seen it before Sebastopol grew up and smother it and I’d love to see it brought back to life today.

Addendum – Morris Street

We didn’t have time to check out the final undergrounded portion upstream of the industrial yard and outfall, so I returned to Morris Street a few days later. Zimpher apparently flows right under the old Barlow Company cannery warehouses. Barlow was the last operating cannery in Sebastopol before it closed in 2004. Back before Sebastopol developed a waste water treatment facility in what is now the north end of the  Laguna Preserve, Barlow reportedly dumped their waste water directly into both Zimpher and Calder creeks. Other than the occasional pipe break such as one that occurred in 1997, the pollutants carried down the creek have mostly come from street runoff.

Zimpher flows under the mound on east side of Morris Street

Zimpher flows under the mound on east side of Morris Street

From Morris Street to the outfall, the culvert is buried deep beneath the mound of fill that raises various businesses out of the flood zone. This strip was developed in the late 1980s, if I recall correctly. Should the zoning in the Northeast Area remain unchanged, the entire area could theoretically be up on similar mounds with the streets down at actual ground level; under the proposed changes, it would be a mix of fill and podia. Either way, the creek cuts diagonally under the area slated for eventual redevelopment and will presumably be buried beneath more fill or below-building parking areas. Daylighting this segment would probably involve redirecting the creek to the northern edge of the development in the vicinity of Laguna Park Way.

(You can check a map and photos from the entire odyssey on Flickr)

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