Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus)

Lynn Deedler, bicycle and park activist (and Design Review Board member) has wanted to clean up Sebastopol’s Railroad Forest for the past couple of years. Years ago, this 10-acre parcel was part of the spur system to the shipping depots of NW Sebastopol, and before that, the line to the passenger depot serving the Northwestern Pacific steam train that competed with the electric Petaluma & Santa Rosa Railway. Since Southern Pacific abandoned the line in the mid-80’s, Himalyan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus), Burbank thornless blackberry (R. hybrid), silver wattle acacia (Acacia dealbata), English ivy (Hedera helix) and periwinkle (Vinca minor) — among other exotic invasive plants have thoroughly taken over. The exotics are particularly rampant in the  western section, while the native California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) dominate the undergrowth closer the Laguna. Currently, very few people venture off — or can even see beyond — the Rodota and Railroad Forest trails due to the thick vegetation — except for an ever shifting crowd of transients who camp out of site in the thickets.  The site has been known as a hobo jungle since the early days, but the exotics have made it even more attractive.

Sebastopol's hobo jungle during a flood in 1940

Sebastopol’s hobo jungle during a flood in 1940 (photo courtesy the Sonoma County Library)

Deedler talked to Sebastopol Chief of Police Jeff Weaver, who was happy to work with him on the issue of the encampments — a few days later, Weaver had directed his officers to cut back brush along Railroad Forest Trail and sweep the encampments. The crew hauled the campers’ belongings to the City’s Corporation Yard until they could be claimed.

Deedler will work with the Laguna Foundation to develop a vegetation management plan and expects to start working in late winter before the berries start their spring growth. He’ll work with a number of adult and student volunteers and plans to tackle roughly two acres a year, starting at the western edge and working toward the Laguna. Most of the park’s visitors will soon get to really see Calder Creek and many other parts the Railroad Forest for the first time.