Tolay Lake park takes a big step forward
Published: Monday, December 17, 2012 at 12:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 17, 2012 at 12:09 p.m.
The long-awaited Tolay Lake Ranch took a giant step toward opening to the public as Sonoma County’s largest regional park when county supervisors voted in September to move forward with creating a master plan for the land located southeast of Petaluma.
The scope of the plan will encompass both the 1,769-acre Tolay Lake Ranch, acquired in 2005, and the adjacent 1,665 acre Tolay Creek Ranch, purchased by the Sonoma Land Trust in 2007.
The park, located off Lakeville Highway about two miles southeast of Petaluma, includes rolling hills and grasslands, forested areas, Tolay Creek and a seasonal lake that was controlled for farming by previous owners. The concept for the park includes restoring these areas to their original condition as much as possible, while also developing recreational facilities for the public.
“We are studying a full range of trails and all sorts of other ideas,” said Steve Ehret, a regional parks planner.
The 1,737-acre property was purchased seven years ago by the Sonoma County Agricultural and Open Space District from the Cordoza family, who ranched and farmed the land and hosted a popular pumpkin patch festival each October.
The Open Space District turned the land over to Regional Parks, and two years later the Sonoma Land Trust purchased the adjacent 1,665-acre Tolay Creek Ranch to be added to the parklands. Together the two sites will form the largest regional park in Sonoma County.
Part of the reason the park project has taken so long to complete, according to Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart, is because the county did not have adequate resources to complete the park planning process until last year when it received a $300,000 award from the State Coastal Conservancy and a $500,000 grant from the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria who recently broke ground on an $825 million casino complex on 64 acres in Rohnert Park.
The Berkeley-based consulting firm M.I.G. (Moore, Iacosano, Goltsman) will be crafting the master plan after beating out four other consulting firms with a bid of $677,000.
Ehret said the master plan process is expected to last about two years, including the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. Once the master plan is complete, construction is still dependent on more funding.
Money for development and maintenance of the park will come from a variety of sources, according to Hart, including general fund money derived from property taxes, park fees, park memberships, and some of the $25 million the Graton Rancheria has offered the county for parks and open space.
“Tolay will be a world-class park,” Hart said. “We really couldn’t get to that level without the support of the tribe.”
Development of the park will take place in phases, so that the county can open the park to the public while the work continues. “We figured out that’s the simplest way to open the park to the public as soon as possible,” Ehret said.
But transforming Tolay into a public park, while restoring and preserving its natural and historical resources, will not be an easy task. Currently the only access is along Cannon Lane, a narrow, rutted road that also serves the park’s neighbors.
There are environmental and cultural concerns as well. The land, which comprises most of the Tolay Creek watershed, is one of a few fresh water-to-salt marsh systems remaining in the Bay Area, and serves as habitat to several rare species, including golden eagles. It is also part of the Pacific Flyway, making it a birder’s paradise.
And the lake is a major spiritual site for Native Americans in California, dating back at least 4,000 years, perhaps longer.
The park’s planning process will incorporate public workshops where park enthusiasts can offer their suggestions for developing the site. Ehret said there is not yet a schedule for these meetings, but members of the public can fill out an online survey, located at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TolayLake
While it will still be a couple years before the park is open, anybody who is longing to spend time hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding its nine miles of ranch roads can obtain a permit that requires only showing up at the park for a one-hour orientation session. The next orientation will be Jan. 13, 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., preceded by a guided tour that begins at 10 a.m. The session is free, as are the cards that permit holders receive to work the magnetic keypad at the park’s entrance gate. The permits are valid indefinitely and there are no age or residency requirements.
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