Settlement in Santa Cruz has always been centered around the San Lorenzo River. In 1876, when the railroad began bringing tourists for fun in the sun, they came to Santa Cruz for the river just as much as the beach. During this time, hotels and houses turned to face the river, and each fishing season brought a boom of tourism to the city. When the river mouth naturally closed itself off every year due to low flow, docks were placed in the lagoon and rowboats were rented for recreation and fishing.
The river offered deep holes that were perfect for fishing and swimming. In the 1870s, girls would swim in old summer dresses, and boys in union suits or cut-off flour sacks. But in Rennie Slough and many other swimming holes, the surrounding vegetation was thick enough that swimming nude was the norm.
How Times Have Changed
The development of Santa Cruz next to the San Lorenzo river essentially means that all of downtown is built on its natural floodplain. This location created a struggle between flooding and development since the very beginning of European settlement here in the 1850s. Structures to control flooding along the river have been built since the 1860s. Bulkhead Street, just north of the clock tower, occupies the exact ground of an 1860s era bulkhead (or dyke) meant to keep water out of the Pacific/Front Street area. Numerous large storms through the decades repeatedly flooded property downtown. After very damaging floods in 1955, the Army Corps of Engineers built flood control measures (levees) all along the San Lorenzo River through downtown Santa Cruz.
The levees, while protecting downtown property, effectively serve to wall off the river from peoples lives. As a result, you are not likely to see anyone fishing, swimming, or boating on the San Lorenzo River anymore. Today, there are mixed feelings towards recreational uses on the river. Water quality is poor so people don’t swim in the river, with the exception of unknowing tourists at the river mouth. Fishing is still allowed seasonally on the river, but only from the banks. Boating in the river, including kayaking, is not legal. There are also public safety concerns with homeless populations that tend to locate near the river, and with illegal activities that occur on the river path.
Ebb & Flow to Create a Different Future!
Several organizations have been working hard to change how people think about and can use the San Lorenzo River. Among them are the Coastal Watershed Council and the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County.
This Saturday June 6th, starting at noon, much of that work will be readily apparent at “Ebb & Flow” an event put on by the Arts Council Santa Cruz. The event will kick off at noon with a Kinetic Sculpture Parade along the San Lorenzo’s Riverwalk. As the parade progresses, ten temporary Ebb & Flow arts projects will be unveiled. The parade will end at the Tannery Arts Center for the “River Arts Celebration” – a full afternoon of food, music, dance, and river-related fun for the whole family.
Mobile Ranger’s New App will be Unveiled!
As part of the festivities Mobile Ranger will be showcasing their new app, “Mobile Ranger Guides” which contains several “AppTours” about Santa Cruz. Front and center in the app will be the ten temporary Ebb & Flow arts projects in the “River Art Walk Tour” as well as a San Lorenzo River Tour made by the Coastal Watershed Council.
Come on down to Ebb & Flow this Saturday and participate in the parade, try out the apptours (we would love your feedback as it is early days for the app), and the celebration of our river — Connect to the San Lorenzo!
Many thanks to the the Arts Council Santa Cruz and the Coastal Watershed Council for help with the content in this post!