After 16 years of discord, delays, and litigation that belied its modest length, the 1.3-mile East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail received its final approval from Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday.
"It is amazing to me how long it has taken and how many people have been involved, and I am honored to be the last of the supervisors working on this issue in a really focused and determined way," said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area, noting that the issue had outlasted the terms of two predecessors.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said the matter was so drawn out that Tuesday's vote represented "a relief rather than a celebration."
The trail will extend the existing ridge trail in Jack London State Park, winding through oak groves and grassland across several pieces of private property to a scenic overlook offering expansive views down the Sonoma Valley.
The idea had seemed relatively uncontroversial when it was first proposed in 1997. The county's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District had secured permission from property owners and construction began on portions of the trail.
When one key property owner sold his land in 2001, however, lawyers discovered that the paperwork to give the county an easement had never been completed, allowing the new buyer to reject the trail, even though it was already under construction.
The county sued both the former property owner, Tom McCrae, and the buyers, the Maria Hansen Trust. It was not until 2009 that the case was fully settled, with the trust donating a slice of land along the ridge line to the Open Space District.
Meanwhile, the Open Space District and other organizations interested in the trail had to finalize agreements with other landowners and calm the worries of nearby homeowners, who were concerned that a trail might mean trespassing, littering, and other crime in their formerly isolated mountainside neighborhood.
That process took another four years, said Bill Keene, general manager of the Open Space District.
One of the key landowners allowing the trail to pass is Ted Eliot, co-chairman of the 2006 effort to extend the local sales tax that funds the Open Space District through 2031. He told the supervisors Tuesday that he and his wife Pat had been dreaming of seeing the area opened to hikers for more than 20 years.
The trail will cost about $50,000 for major grading and installation, Keene told the supervisors. Much of the finishing work will be done by volunteers organized by the nonprofit Sonoma County Trails Council, at a cost of $19,500, more than half of which is covered by a grant from outdoor retailer REI.
The trail will be managed by the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association, which stepped in to manage Jack London State Park in 2011 after the state threatened to close it and dozens of parks statewide.
Keene said the new trail could be open as early as next spring, if the weather cooperates, but certainly no later than the summer.
Eventually, the county's various parks, open space, and trail advocates would like to extend the trail southwest to Petaluma Adobe State Park and connect to other area trails, but that will require years of negotiations with other private landowners, Keene said.
For the moment, the trail will end in a loop around a wooded spur at the end of the ridge. The trail will offer a sweeping view down the Sonoma Valley and as far as the San Francisco Bay.
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