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Spring Lake Park to get food upgrade, beer and wine

  • McKinley Elementary School students of Petaluma take a nature hike at the Environmental Discovery Center at Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, Friday April 13, 2012. (PD FILE, 2012)

Visitors to Spring Lake Regional Park in Santa Rosa this summer are set to experience some changes — of the culinary kind.

A restaurateur with a growing network of downtown eateries is taking over the park's summertime concession stand with plans to add smoothies, salads and a variety of burgers to the standard hot dog and ice cream fare.

For adult patrons, the makeover will include draft beer and glasses of wine served in an area overlooking the nearby swimming lagoon.

And that may only be the start of a food service overhaul for the county park, which joins two others — Howarth Park, overseen by the city of Santa Rosa, and Annadel State Park — on the city's eastern outskirts.

As part of a deal approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, Sonoma County parks officials also agreed to work with Nino Rabbaa, owner of Rendez Vous Bistro and the new Flipside burger cafe in Santa Rosa, on opening a seasonal restaurant on the northeast shore of Spring Lake as soon as next summer.

Those plans are in the earliest stages of discussion and would be subject to public input and environmental review.

They are part of a broader strategy to boost visitation to Spring Lake — now at about 600,000 people a year — and funding for parks.

Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart called the concession deal the “first step” in transforming the public lands complex including Spring Lake into a “world class park.”

“It's been static for years and years,” Hart said.

She and other parks officials said diminished budgets have fueled the need for more partnerships with business. They downplayed concerns about commercialization of public lands, an issue likely to be raised by critics when the restaurant plans resurface.

“Parks these days are responding to that (funding shortage) by finding a balance that works for the public,” said Bert Whitaker, the county's parks manager.

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