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Fitch Mountain residents say goodbye to Del Rio dam

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by
The McEnhill Family at Del Rio in 1946. (Photo: Don McEnhill)

The McEnhill Family at Del Rio in 1946. (Photo: Don McEnhill)

Sometime around 1936, according to the Healdsburg Museum’s Summer 2008 “Russian River Recorder,” Fitch Mountain residents banded together to create the Del Rio dam.

Seventy-eight years later, heavy equipment gathered at the river’s edge to make it all go away. After years of squabbling by a variety of agencies about how best to approach the favored waterhole of many, the dam’s foundation was removed.

“I’ve been hearing and watching the work with sadness,” said Diana Stratton. “I remember the years that it was in and going to sleep at night listening to the spillway soothe me to sleep with the gentle sound of water…and during the day, hearing children laughing and playing in the pooled water.

“It’s even sadder this year, with the lowest water level I have ever seen in my 45 years of living on the river,” she continued sadly. “Farewell old friend.”

Penelope La Montagne, another longtime Fitch Mountain resident and former Healdsburg Literary Laureate who has penned many poems and songs about the river, echoed those sentiments.

“A sad farewell. The dam at Del Rio is being demolished,” she wrote on Facebook. “Come on out and pay your respects to a wonderful piece of Americana going away.”

The dam’s boards were installed every summer and removed every fall, while the foundation was permanent. The swimming lagoon created behind the dam attracted hundreds of people bent on river recreation. It was a rite of passage for kids to swim out to the pontoon-floated raft that moored in the middle.

Russian Riverkeeper Don McEnhill, also a Fitch Mountain resident, has many happy memories of his time growing up on the river and at Del Rio dam.

“Growing up spending my summers on Fitch Mountain, the old Del Rio dam was a big attraction, even just watching the water flow over the spillway,” said McEnhill. “As I grew up — and away from my parents’ watchful eyes — the dam became a place to take risks playing on the spillway.

“Even when we visited our cabin in the winter, we’d walk down to the dam, because that was the center of the universe on Fitch Mountain,” he continued.

He admitted to “equal measures of nostalgia and the sense that all things change over time,” and that seeing new growth in willows and cottonwoods make it “more like a natural river.”

The wooden planks haven’t been installed on the dam since at least 2005, and they were also disallowed in 2002 and 2003, due to the listing of salmon and steelhead on the federal Endangered Species List.

“My kids never had the chance to play on or around the dam, like I did,” said McEnhill. “But they seem to enjoy the river as much as I ever did.

“Despite the demise of the Del Rio dam, the river is still the center of the universe on Fitch Mountain,” he continued. “I hope that never changes.”

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