Giacomini Wetlands: A Legacy for Tomales Bay (14-minute version © 2008)

Point Reyes National Seashore


[music and nature sounds]

[Narrator] At the head of Tomales Bay in West Marin County, by the banks of Lagunitas Creek, below the community of Point Reyes Station, and, in the shadow of the Point Reyes Peninsula, levee's came down, land was sculpted, native vegetation took root, and saltwater from the bay waited to reclaim a storied dairy ranch. Soon, nature was coming home.

[Don Neubacher] I'm not gonna be shy about it: I'm gonna have goose bumps in the sense that, again, this is a legacy project. We worked 10 years to get it done.

[John Kelly] It's gonna be breathtaking. You know, I don't want to miss it, because it's's just one of those moments that...that moment may not be so ecologically significant, just that moment,'s the beginning of so much, and you just want to be there. So, it's gonna be breathtaking.

[Narrator] On the weekend of October 25 and 26, 2008, water from Tomales Bay will flow when this dike is removed into this waiting slough and begin to spread across hundreds of acres of the old Giacomini dairy ranch. This lovely landscape will become a rich wetland again, as it once had been for thousands of years.

[Dennis Rodoni] It was like I always believed: this land wanted to come back and want it to be wetlands. And...and...and I think that's what I feel—is that excitement of it's happening. It's going to open the door, now. It's happening.

[Carlos Porrata] It will not only be habitat for wildlife, but it's really a matter of...the breathing—this natural, wonderful breathing of this life thing that we have here, that we call nature. And, uh, it is the lungs. There it is: the lungs of the bay.

[Narrator] The bay is Tomales Bay, a narrow inlet riding from south to north atop the San Andreas Fault. At the southern edge of the bay, the flat land below, is the dairy ranch purchased by the Giacomini family in the 1940s. With the support of the Army Corps of Engineers, the family built dikes and channeled Lagunitas Creek, blocked the intrusion of saltwater from Tomales Bay, and ultimately expanded the ranch to 560 acres.

In the year 2000, the Giacominis sold their ranch to the federal government to create the wetland that will bear the family's name. The transition, though, is a bittersweet mixture of pride and regret. Rich Giacomini was raised on the ranch and worked it with his father, Waldo, for many decades.

[Rich Giacomini] Well, we'd rather still be here in the dairy business. ...uh... No, I think it's's an honor to my father to have have his name on it. He put his whole life into this ranch and, uh...he...he really enjoyed it—enjoyed what he did. You know, what...what he accomplished.

[Don Neubacher] We wanted to make sure that it represented the family, so we ended up calling it the Giacomini Wetlands Restoration Project as a tribute to the...the family that held this land in trust for over 50 years.

[beeping and noise from heavy machinery]

[Narrator] In early October of 2008, the transformation from ranch land to wetland was close to completion. And crews worked quickly against the clock. They tore down levees and berms that, for years, had separated saltwater from pastureland. They shoveled and smoothed marsh soil and seeds onto barren ground. They finished constructing refuges to give threatened black rails and clapper rails high and dry terrain in times of flood. They planted native vegetation to provide the vulnerable rails shelter from their predators. They rolled out blankets to keep soil from eroding. And they cleared sloughs of cattails that would slow incoming water from the bay.

[call of a red-winged blackbird]

Finally, the canvas was almost ready for nature to paint.

[Don Neubacher] Nature's gonna do a lot of the work itself. we're gonna do some, but it will, again, once we get it ...the water there...uh, the wetlands will re-establish themselves. We've seen it in other places and it's going to happen here.

[Dennis Rodoni] I think I get to a point where I want to jump up and down and say,"We did it! We did it! Here comes the saltwater fish! Here come everything in through the breach!" And I think that's...that's the exciting part is that it will happen so quickly.

[John Kelly] I think, I hope, I don't know, but I hope that, with the restoration of this ranch, the south end of the bay will really get a boost of energy. We may see more shorebirds using Tomales Bay, is what I'm hoping, because I suspect that those that depend on the south end of the bay are gonna get a big habitat boost.


[Narrator] Build the framework, invite nature to do the work, and the wildlife should follow. Wintering shorebirds in great numbers. Herons and egrets, and many other animals of the air and of the sea.

The new wetlands nursery will sustain and nurture four endangered species: coho salmon, steelhead trout the red legged frog, and the tidewater goby. And it will help clean the water of Tomales Bay by doubling the size of the estuary's marshlands. It will restore 12% of the outer coastal wetlands of Central California. The Giacomini Wetland is a very big project.

[Carlos Porrata] We need to think big. There's nothing wrong with actually getting a big project like this done. And, as a matter of fact, it is getting done, it will be done. So,...the sky's the limit. The sky's the limit. I want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to actually enjoy this bay, as beautiful as it is. And, actually, we want to even improve it. So,...that becomes some sort of...sort of a career, doesn't it? It's in the heart. It's not really in, just, it's... it's just part of your soul.

[Narrator] For all of those whose vision and labor is on the verge of literally coming to life, there's a genuine sense of hope and inspiration.

[John Kelly] Yeah!

[Don Neubacher] So, for me, I'm gonna be inspired. I'm gonna feel hopeful. I'm gonna...feel like we've really accomplished something that really is a legacy for the nation.

[Dennis Rodoni] For this know, it''s been a long long road to get here, but it's going to be such a treasure for this local community to have this wetlands, 'cause people are going to come from everywhere to see it. I'm sure of that. And, so, it's not only a national treasure, it''s a local treasure, it's a Bay Area treasure.


[Narrator] And, so, the stage, at last, is set for nature to make her grand, and much-anticipated, entrance. Everybody expects she'll put on quite a show.

[Carlos Porrata] I Feel like we're blessed. We truly are blessed. We're blessed with this. It's, uh, Mother Earth is amazing. And we are part of it. And, it's just amazing. So, I feel like we're blessed. End of story.


[Narrator] But, of course, the story of the Giacomini Wetland is not ending; it's just beginning.

[bird song]

[noise from heavy machinery]

[Narrator] On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the last layers of soil were carefully carved away separating Tomales Bay from the old Giacomini dairy ranch. A crowd gathered by the lower Tomasini slough and high on a nearby ridge to watch. Photographs were taken and interviews were conducted by the media. Finally, at 1:25 pm, the final scraps of dirt gave way and the water rushed home.

[people cheering and applauding]

For those who came to look and those who worked on the project for many years the emotions flowed as freely as the water.

[Lorraine Parsons] It's just so exciting to see this happen and...I just can't even describe it. I have to say, I'm a little choked up. [laughing] But, um...I think the way we're able to do this, to see the water rush in, made it just that much more special. Because it really gives you this sense of immediacy that is coming back right now. This is it. It's starting. The clock is starting now.

[John Dell'Osso] You know, the hand of man created this...this blockage of nature some time ago. And the hand of man has now brought it back. And that's what's so exciting. And whatever happens, after this point, after today, is up to nature. It's not up to us. I think what really makes it worthwhile is the fact that the community is so supportive. I feel like that's added an extra touch to this project. To feel their enthusiasm has been infectious, in a way. And just, you know, to have people constantly tell us how excited they are and they couldn't wait for this day to come.

[bird chirping]

[Narrator] The crowd lingered near the water's edge a while longer. In a little bit, a second smaller slough was also open. And the construction manager, Tony Williams, became the first kayaker to follow the water of Lagunitas Creek into the brand-new, Giacomini Wetland.

[cheers and applause]

[Dennis Rodoni] You know, future generations may not remember what happened here today, or what we experienced. But my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and your grandchildren will forever appreciate what we did here today or what we accomplished. This wetland is for future generations. And thank you very much.

[Narrator] The next afternoon, a big celebration was held by the Red Barn at Point Reyes National Seashore.

[Don Neubacher] From the PRNSA, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association is Sally Bolger. She walks on water, too.

[people applauding and cheering]

[Narrator] The many people who'd worked together for so long to bring the wetland to life were honored and toasted, all around.

[people applauding]

[Don Neubacher] Toast to the future of the Giacomini Wetlands. May it be full of wildlife, good water quality, and great things in the future.

[applause and Don says "hear hear"]

[various people saying things like "Cheers" and "Here's to wetlands" and applauding]

[Narrator] But the biggest event of the day had taken place a little earlier on that Sunday morning. Five hundred people from the community walked across the old ranch to witness for themselves the rising tide inch in.

[people excitedly talking and calling to one another]

[Sally Bolger] I honestly didn't know your heart could break with joy. But, yesterday, when we breached the levee, that was the only way I could describe it. To see the water come through after so much work and effort and just...PASSION to get this job done and to have it, you know, Mother Nature just break through the levee and come in. The only way I can describe it is joy. And here we are today, seeing this first high tide come into this tiny little channel and literally see the water creep back in for the first time in 60 else...excitement doesn't do it. Joy is the only way, the only word I can use.

[people excitedly talking and calling to one another]

[Narrator] A lot of people felt the simple joy of watching water slowly reclaim the ground and sticking bare feet into soft new mud.

[background excited talk fades]


[Sally Bolger] Mother nature is going to turn this into what it ought to be. And that's the hope. I think that's the energy that you're feeling here. And everybody just...the support of the community for all of these years has been just tremendous. And, now, to be able to share this particular moment with the community who have wanted it so much...How can, I mean, it is just a gift to me and to everybody who's been involved to be able to share it? That's the gift.


[Narrator] Three days later, from the air, it was easy to see that the wetland was already getting much wetter. By then, the water from Tomales Bay covered the northern two-thirds of the Giacometti Wetland. Its story was just beginning to unfold and would continue for years to come.

[John Kelly] It's very exciting. Yeah, I mean anybody that's spent a long time watching wildlife in West Marin can only be completely delighted and excited about this because it's huge. I mean, it''s''s just a big area.'s going to be great to watch.


[Narrator] And the watching has just begun.



A 14-minute documentary produced by Doug McConnell in 2008 about the Giacomini Wetland Restoration Project, focusing on the breaching of the levees on October 25, 2008.


14 minutes, 20 seconds


Doug McConnell / oint Reyes National Seashore Association

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