There's something different about this year's Steelhead Festival, to be held this Saturday, Feb. 9. In fact, it was formerly known as the Healdsburg Wild Steelhead Festival, a name that has been abbreviated for clarity and, at least for this year, accuracy.
Unlike the previous four years, it will not be held in the Healdsburg Plaza, but only at the Lake Sonoma Visitor's Center, where previous years saw a Sunday event. This year, all events will be in one location, on one day.
One reason for the change is that Friends of Lake Sonoma is this year's primary sponsor. "We're trying really hard to make them a known group," said festival coordinator Liz Keeley. "They augment the Army Corps information at the vistor's center, and run tons of school groups through there."
It will certainly be worth the 20-minute drive from Healdsburg to Lake Sonoma. Many of the exhibits and activities familiar from past festivals - a free trout pond for young anglers, live steelhead display, art for kids to do - will be available. And the wide-open outdoor location will offer the chance to try your hand at archery.
"You can let loose your inner Katniss," said Keeley, referring to the heroine of The Hunger Games.
The location at the Lake Sonoma fish hatchery also means the active science of fish sortings can be observed, and of course Coho and Steelhead will be jumping in the fish ladder.
Although the Healdsburg Plaza has event generated the lion's share of publicity in the past, last year some 2,000 came to the Vistor's Center for the event, according to Keeley.
"We hope everyone comes out on Saturday to enjoy the afternoon, and see the fish jumping at the ladder. It's still a free event," she reminds us.
On hand with appropriate information and exhibits will be Russian Riverkeeper, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Army Corps of Engineers, Sonoma County Water Agency, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, River's Edge Canoe and Kayak, Bird Rescue, Sonoma County Mycological Society, Sonoma County Regional Parks, the Free Bookmobile and others.
Admission is free, and hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Musicians on hand include the festival favorite Rosetown Ramblers, and food trucks from Chicago Style Hot dogs, Paella and Ultimate Souvlaki will be close at hand. Wine from nearby Truett Hurst and beer from the Bear Republic and Lagunitas will also be available. Revenue generated from the vendors will benefit the Friends of Lake Sonoma.
If you've never made the drive up to Lake Sonoma, it passes through the heart of Dry Creek Valley on Dry Creek Road, about 12 miles from Healdsburg to the earthen Warm Springs Dam and the visitor's center.
Along the way are many esteemed wineries, from multi-sweepstakes winner Wilson Wines up to Sbragia just short of the dam, with dozens more in between - Mauritson, Nalle, Dry Creek Valley, Rued, Dutcher Creek, Ty Caton, Ferrari Carano and event wine sponsor Truett Hurst.
Dry Creek - the waterway, not the road - runs through the Truett Hurst property, and the tasting room has placed Adirondack chairs on the deck to watch over the salmon and steelhead as they migrate upstream.
The Visitor Center's official address is 3288 Skaggs Springs Road, Geyserville. there's no need to consult your GPS - in fact, it could be confusing, as many visitors to the area find themselves on the wrong road. From Heladsburg, just drive north on Dry Creek Rd. until you reach the end.
If you're coming from Geyserville, you can take Canyon Rd. west to Dry Creek Dr., then turn right to continue up-valley. From Cloverdale, take Dutcher Creek Rd. to Dry Creek and again a left to the dam.
For more information about The Steelhead Festival and Friends of Lake Sonoma, visit www.lakesonoma.org.