Town’s ready for the Fourth of July
When the fireworks blast off on the Monte Rio beach this Friday night, July 5, it will be the only remaining free holiday fireworks show along the entire lower river.
“They’re not doing fireworks in Guerneville this year,” said Monte Rio Chamber of Commerce President Marina McTaggart. “So we’re it.”
And they’ll be celebrating more than independence. Monte Rio stores and restaurants hit by February’s flood are open again, the town beach is busy and summer’s rolling at the Russian River’s “vacation wonderland.”
Paul DuBray’s Rio Café & Grill was severely damaged when floodwater filled the Rio Theater in February, but DuBray and partner Alain LeCloux bounced back with the Rio Bistro, a new restaurant overlooking the river at the historic Village Inn. For Friday’s fireworks show, they’ll have family night seatings (reservations required) with an optional view of the fireworks.
“We’re having two seatings, one at 5:30 and one at 7:30 p.m.,” said DuBray. “Anyone that eats at 5:30 can come back for the fireworks show, and we’ll have a place for them down on the terraces and the lawn to watch the show. There’s not a bad vantage point anywhere on this property.”
February’s flood disaster marked the first go-round for DuBray, who took over Don’s Dogs hotdog stand five years ago after Don and Suzi Schaffert sold the theater to its current owners, Rio Properties LLC, a Bay Area investor group.
“We were told there was no chance the water would come up into the café because it’s never gotten that high,” said DuBray, who watched the flood from his hillside home. “There was two and a half feet of water inside the café and our appliances were bobbing around in there like fishing bobs.”
The Rio Theater remains closed while flood repairs unfold, but DuBray hopes to eventually move back with an ice cream parlor serving his brand, Scoop of Sonoma custard ice cream.
Meanwhile the new Rio Bistro menu offers “country comfort cuisine,” said DuBray.
“We’re serving everything from chicken pot pies to shrimp skewers and chicken kabobs for the summer. Good country comfort food, something that your grandmother would have made at home.”
What’s going to happen with the Rio Cafe, and the old Quonset hut theater itself?
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” said DuBray. “I know they’re trying to get as much recovery done as possible. I know the group that owns it has been there working on it when they’re available. But most of them don’t live here so they’re down in the city. It’s tough for them to get up on a regular basis. I know they’re having to work through some red-tag issues with the county, with PRMD and the health department. So once they get through all that, the plans are to re-establish the business. Hopefully they will, but apparently it’s not going to be for this season.”
Monte Rio’s upcoming holiday weekend includes the Big Rocky Games all day Friday on the Monte Rio beach, followed by the fabulous water curtain and the parade of river floats.
The water curtain is created by the Monte Rio Fire Department spraying water off the Monte Rio Bridge with a fire hose to form a curtain on which patriotic images are projected from the beach below.
The parade of floats is nicely understated too. Half a dozen entries would put it over the top this year, said Monte Rio Fire Chief Steve Baxman, also a Recreation and Park District Director.
“There used to be 100 entries,” said Baxman. “It’s been around a long time. Now when people ask me what to enter, I tell them, ‘Make anything. Just put a float in the river.’”
Another town tradition, the firehouse barbecue, starts around noon on Saturday outside the Monte Rio firehouse on Main Street.
This year’s flood caught a lot of Monte Rio a little off guard. The first major flood in 24 years baptized new developments such as Creekside Park at the site of the old Monte Rio Elementary School. Schoolhouse Gulch Creek blocked its culvert under Main Street and flooded the road, the park’s trails, the skate park and a vacant classroom in the school building, said Monte Rio Recreation & Parks District Administrator Sherry Pimsler. Luckily the park’s Lightwave Café escaped any damage.
“I’m so impressed by the resilience this town has,” said Pimsler.