[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 just...it's just one of those moments that...that moment may not be so ecologically significant, just that moment, but...it'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 a...it's an honor to my father to have it...to 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.
To get here, it took: ten years of scientific analysis, careful planning, and hard work; ten million dollars from many sources; the collaboration of numerous public and private agencies and organizations; and volunteers; and the support of the community.
[call of a red-winged blackbird]
[Narrator] Finally, the canvas was almost ready for nature to paint.
[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.
[Narrator] The crowd lingered near the water's edge a while longer.
[Dennis Rodoni] 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.
The many people who'd worked together for so long to bring the wetland to life were honored and toasted, all around.
[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"]
But the biggest event of the day had taken place a little earlier on that Sunday morning. 500 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 years...how 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]
[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.
[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.
[Dennis Rodoni] For this community...um...you know, it's...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...it's a local treasure, it's a Bay Area treasure.
[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] And the watching has just begun.