New owners ready to welcome locals and foreigners to Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville

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Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville is gearing up for summer, a season that promises more liberal public access to Russian River Beach than locals have enjoyed in recent years.

In an interview posing as the new owners of the site, siblings Ethan, Alison and Andrew Joseph said they wanted to reduce barriers for residents of Guerneville and others who until recently could use the beach free for generations.

There will always be a parking fee at the lower river beach. It was a new addition when the previous owners acquired the beach and resort in 2015.

But the Josephs are toying with free parking for those with Guerneville postcodes and further discounts for those in the immediate vicinity, Ethan Joseph said.

They also plan to scrap requirements that all visitors reserve and pay for the privilege of spending time on the beach, a COVID-era invention that provided shady, socially distanced spots for all visitors.

“We want to make sure that we operate and provide opportunities for locals and people from across the bay and further afield to enjoy this special property that is Johnson’s Beach,” Ethan Joseph said. “We love this place, and we think it’s absolutely beautiful, and the community is really vibrant and fun, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”

The 11-acre site is an iconic destination on the Lower Russian River, and for more than a century it has offered summer escape and refreshment – as well as a healthy dose of nostalgia – for tourists and locals alike. .

Situated opposite a wooded hill, the site benefits from one of three seasonal dams installed each summer at sites along the river to raise the water level for recreational purposes, which is particularly important during years of drought. (Other dams are traditionally installed at Healdsburg and downstream at Vacation Beach.)

Many of its visitors remember splashing in the river as children and later return with friends or children to revisit the iconic beach one block from the main street in central Guerneville.

The Josephs, natives of the East Coast, discovered the region as adults. Alison and Ethan Joseph, both in their 30s, live in San Francisco and said they often made the trek north to the river. Andrew Joseph, the youngest, plans to move to western New York.

The siblings are also partners at a hotel in Whitefish, Montana, a riverside town west of Glacier National Park. The community ironically shares the logging-era nickname by which Guerneville is often known: Stumptown.

The property there, known as the Stumptown Inn, will soon be renamed After Whitefish and the company that owns the two properties will be called After Hotels.

The Josephs and their business partners acquired the Whitefish property in 2019. They have since been sprucing it up to the condition they wanted, while keeping their eyes and ears open for another opportunity that appealed. to what Ethan Joseph called their “outdoor adventure and spirit of travel.”

When they learned Russian River Beach was listed last fall, “it just helped determine where the Whitefish property was in the right place so Ethan (the operations manager) could turn his attention to another place,” her sister said. “So it was quite fortuitous.”

“I think everyone who’s been there knows Johnson’s Beach,” said Alison Joseph, “and we love it and feel really lucky and excited to operate this property.”

“Basically,” said Ethan Joseph, “we’re looking for properties that offer niche access to the outdoors and vibrant types of community-focused locations. And basically both properties are now accessible to a wide range of people looking to get out and enjoy nature. They are unique and affordable.

This is the second time Guerneville’s beach and accommodations — 10 cabins, a four-bedroom lodge and a 38-spot campground over the water — have changed hands in less than a decade.

The last time marked a major transition, when Clare Harris sold the beach to Dan Poirier and Nick Moore after operating it with her family for 48 years.

Harris, now 101, loved paying for old music from the snack bar and serving beers, burgers and ice cream at prices from decades past, making visitors feel like they were stepping back in time as they walked on the boardwalk across the gravel beach.

But some locals grew irritated when the new owners started charging for parking. For decades, the beach and parking were free for everyone, and visitors only paid for food, drinks, umbrellas, tubing, boat rentals, and more. There was further discontent when the pandemic hit, and Moore and Poirier adopted a reservation system and assigned beach real estate to stay in business.

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