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James Weeks, a member of Young's 1833 fur brigade wrote: "They broke up all the beaver lodges on the lake, I believe the finest and largest beaver we caught there, we arrived at the Russian River and pitched camp sent out, trappers found signs set traps caught beavers..." The Russian River State Marine Reserve and Russian River State Marine Conservation Area protect the Russian River Estuary.
Like underwater parks, these marine protected areas help conserve ocean and freshwater wildlife and marine ecosystems.
The Russian River springs from the Laughlin Range about 5 mi (8 km) east of Willits in Mendocino County.
It flows generally southward to Redwood Valley, then past Calpella, where it is bordered by U. Route 101, to join the East Fork Russian River just below Lake Mendocino. Route 101, it descends into the Alexander Valley, where it is joined by Big Sulphur Creek.
The lower Russian River is a popular spring, summer, and fall destination for navigation and recreation.
Water transferred from the Eel River and released from Lake Mendocino flows through the Russian River channel to withdrawal points in Sonoma County.
Although this method of transport supports aquatic and riparian zone habitats, it is vulnerable to chemical contamination from transportation accidents where the river is in close proximity to highway 101 and Northwestern Pacific Railroad transportation corridors in locations like the canyon between Cloverdale and Hopland.
Recent genetic studies on steelhead collected at 20 different sites both above and below passage barriers in the watershed found that despite the fact that 30 million hatchery trout were stocked in the river from 1911 to 1925, the steelhead remain of native and not hatchery stock.
Until recently, most reviews indicated that Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) were always scarce on the Russian River.
After it makes a series of sweeping bends, the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge carries Old Redwood Highway over the river just upstream of U. State Route 1 crosses over the river before it flows into the Pacific Ocean between Jenner and Goat Rock Beach.