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Trail taking shape at Montini Preserve


High on an oak-studded hillside overlooking Sonoma, shadows fell Friday across a newly carved rock and dirt path where Don Hays stopped to admire his crews' handiwork.

"See the moss here," the Tahoe City man said, running his hands across large boulders bordering the path. "We're careful not to scrape this away."

Construction of a 1.8-mile trail at the 98-acre Montini Open Space Preserve is the last remaining hurdle before the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District hands over the site to the city. County supervisors authorized the transfer in March.

Hays, whose company began work on the trail two weeks ago and is being paid $375,000, said his goal is to make the undulating and winding path appear as if it has been part of the landscape forever.

"I like it when people don't ever think about what they are walking on because they are so involved in the natural world around them," he said.

Using small excavators, machine rollers and their own hands, Hays and his crew of six are carving out a path that winds across and up the grass and tree-covered hillside. Small flags stuck in the ground point the way.

Once opened, the public will be able to hike the easy-to-moderate path and take in gorgeous views of Sonoma. The new route will connect to the city's Overlook Trail, extending the journey.

On Friday, crews worked on a roughly 1,300-foot section of trail leading from Fourth Street West that is supposed to meet federal disability standards for backcountry trails. The section traverses property owned by California State Parks, which has licensed its use by the county.

Hays said the section will have a grade of three to four percent, about half what he said is required by law to meet disability requirements. It will be paved with compacted aggregate, which Hays said is the material used on highways beneath top-layer asphalt.

Torina Duplantier, who lives on Montini Way near the Fourth Street West trailhead, expressed doubt that she'll actually be able to access the site in her wheelchair. But she and her husband, Dave, expressed eagerness to try it out.

"That property is beautiful up there," Dave Duplantier said.

Plans to install hiking paths on the preserve and provide parking for visitors drew some neighborhood opposition when they first were proposed in 2007. The plans were scaled back, with only one on-street handicapped parking space planned at the Fourth Street West trailhead.

The trail begins on the east side of Fourth Street West, across from the intersection of Harazthy Drive, and will run roughly parallel to Fourth Street while curving to the east. That will lead to some separation between the trail and the Montini Way subdivision, where some residents have opposed trailheads because "they did not wish to see hikers in the view from their backyards," according to a county staff report.

Laura Hoban, who recently purchased a home on Harazthy Drive, said Friday she was a "little bummed" to learn that the trailhead was being opened across the street. She worries about people parking there and for the safety of her kids.

"I'm excited about the trail. I'm just not excited about the traffic," she said.

Leslie Lew, a planner with the Open Space District, handed out flyers in the neighborhood Friday informing residents of the trail work and who they could contact at the county with any concerns.

Hays said he expects to have the job completed by August, which would be months ahead of schedule.

Whether the trail opens to the public this year could depend on whether city and county officials feel it is ready to handle the use. Typically, new trails aren't opened until after they've been seasoned by the winter rains. But that's usually for trails used by equestrians or mountain bikers, which won't be allowed at Montini.

"My instincts tell me it will be used whether we formally open it or not, as there are too many existing connections to access points and existing facilities and trails to keep people out," said Mark Cleveland, senior park planner for Sonoma County Regional Parks, which is overseeing the contractors for the trail project.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.