CREEK MERMAID — Vira Fauss (AKA the California Mermaid) is one of the founders of Friends of Fife Creek. She regularly tests the water in the creek for contaminants. One goal of the Fife Creek project is to improve the quality of water flowing into the Russian River.

The narrow piece of Guerneville real estate restored by Friends of Fife Creek is now being transformed into a butterfly garden. 


CREEK KEEPER — Plant lover David Morton is overseeing the creation of the butterfly garden at Fife Creek.

On Brookside Lane, just before the bridge over Fife Creek, is a well-tended parcel that was once a notorious eyesore. Signs, erected by West Sonoma Inn, inform visitors that this is a “Sensitive habitat area / Do not disturb.”

Seven years ago, the entire parcel was viewed as an “unaccepted area,” unclaimed by any owner and therefore a magnet for dumped garbage and homeless encampments.  Now the site is a key part of a “bridge to bridge restoration project,” that aims to improve the water quality coming from Armstrong Woods to the Russian River.

Friends of Fife Creek’s decision to create a butterfly garden was originally prompted by a $2,500 gift from the Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who stipulated that it be spent for that purpose. That gift was followed by a $5,000 donation from the Sonoma County Water Agency.

“This is a gateway we are beautifying,” said project manager Vira Fauss (aka the California Mermaid). She remembers the days when imagining a butterfly garden on the site would have seemed a hopeless mirage.  Seven years ago Friends of Fife Creek’s main objective was simply to clean up the site, stabilize the creek banks and prevent the creek from carrying polluted water and trash out into the Russian River. Since then, the group’s volunteers have removed 10 tons of debris from the site, carted away in some 80 large trash dumpsters. To put an end to dumping and make the parcel less attractive as a campsite, boulders and posts have been put in place along the Brookside Lane side.

Because Friends of Fife Creek isn’t a legally recognized nonprofit, the creek restoration and butterfly project is being sponsored by Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and the Community Clean Water Institute (CCWI), which has been supporting Friends of Fife Creek since its inception. Community Clean Water Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, accepts donations for the project and is also working to get a preservation easement on the property. CCWI receives a 10% custodian fee to manage Friends of Fife Creek’s financials.

SCWA’s Ann Dubay said the water agency is pleased with the progress on the site.  “Vera sends us updates. It’s pretty amazing to see how far they’ve come from the dumpster days.” 

To keep tabs on the creek’s water quality, Friends of Fife Creek has a monitoring site under the bridge where Fourth Street turns into Brookside Lane. Fauss tests the water, logs into the site, enters the data and emails it to CCWI.

Recently Fife Creek has gotten some black marks, due to the county’s dredging of the creek to mitigate flooding in winter, when the creek often overflows. (Local fishermen have simply given up complaining that the dredging has destroyed a spawning stream.)

Despite the dredging, efforts to create the butterfly garden continue unabated, said David Morton, who oversees development of the site. Morton, who has built butterfly gardens elsewhere, cited Healdsburg’s Wetzel Native Plant Garden as an example of the kind of garden he’d like to create along Fife Creek.

Morton said Friends of Fife Creek plan to plant 200 perennials on the site, including shade-loving varieties and those that can thrive in open, treeless, sunny areas. He said plantings will include a variety of native species, including Alders, Milkweed, Pipevine, Penstamen, Agastache, Everlast, Ceanothus and more.

Morton said the group also plans to cover the site with 2 to 6 inches of redwood mulch, provided by the Odd Fellows, which Morton said is an essential component for healthy soil. Plans are also underway to install a 5,000-gallon water tank (already paid for), devoted to providing continual irrigation of the pollinator-friendly native plants once they are planted.

“There will be an A to Z walkway with descriptive panels,” Morton said, describing his vision for the garden, “as well as individual six-foot wide boxes containing plants that support — and are nourished by — pollinators such as butterflies, bees and birds. There also will be visual representations of butterfly species native to Sonoma County.”

And, if the project is successful, some actual butterflies as well.  Though most people are familiar with the migrating Monarch butterflies, the new site might acquaint them for the first time with local species like the Mournful Duskywing, the Fiery Skipper and the Pipeline Swallowtail.

“The Guerneville butterfly garden will educate visitors on the diversity of butterfly species in the Bay Area, the lifecycle of the butterfly and all of its habitat requirements, native plants that attract butterflies and examples of several local endangered butterflies, and what can be done to save them,” Morton said.

The Fife Creek Cleanup happens every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Meet up at Fourth Street Bridge on Brookside Lane in Guerneville For more information, contact Vira the Mermaid, 707-484-8767.

Local artist Moe Monroe brings her ‘strange, small’ handiwork to Fife Creek


CREEK ARTIST — Artist Moe Monroe and furry friend.

Moe Monroe says she “collects all kinds of strange smalls.” Her house gives testimony to that. In every room are the tiny objects that adorn her assemblage art projects, like the one she’s doing to decorate the Fourth Street side of the Friends of Fife Creek parcel.

For some 40 years Monroe and her sister ran a Burlingame clothing store, Morning Glory Boutique, which Monroe left seven years ago to open an antique store dubbed Mozo’s Antique Search and Rescue. Then two years ago she decided the Bay Area was “too crowded” and moved to the river area, where she had spent summers as a child and now “goes to local drag queen shows to meet interesting people.”  Somewhere along the way she met Vira Fauss, aka “the California Mermaid,” who invited her to participate in the cleanup of Fife Creek.

“I pulled plenty of garbage out of the creek before I started working on a fence-art installation for the Friends of Fife Creek property,” she said, wiring sea glass and seashells to string out along the Fourth Street fence of the property. 


EN GARDE — Some of Moe Monroe's art decorates the fence at Fife Creek.

When the old fence bordering the east side of a planned butterfly garden is replaced, Monroe will adorn it with wooden butterflies and other as-yet-undiscovered accoutrements.

“I’ll look at the challenges and come up with something, see where that goes. Give us 30 days, then we’ll come up with the reveal.” 

Monroe singles out famed  kinetic sculptor Alexander Calder as a key influence.

“I’m a wire freak,” she said.

She showed several mobiles as evidence, all made of rocks gathered at Salt Point, porcelain fragments scooped out of the River shallows, and various old rusted found objects, all wrapped and suspended with wire.

Monroe said a metaphor for what she does is “bringing ruined remnants to life as art pieces. We all have broken parts of ourselves, and stringing found and broken pieces of pottery and glass makes me feel whole.”

(1) comment


Re, the dredging of Fife Creek - note that the gravel removal is on a manmade channel portion of Fife Creek that was built 70+ years ago to divert the creek from the "new" school being built. It is not a natural creek channel. I'm curious who the "local" fishermen are that have complained - I know many local (as in "lifetime area residents") fishermen who support the gravel removal. What chance do the fingerlings (if there are any) have it's just a big bed of dry gravel that ultimately exceeds the height of Armstrong Woods Road?

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