A long-delayed plan to build 2.4 miles of new trail along the eastern side of the scenic Laguna de Santa Rosa could kick into gear next month.
Sonoma County officials have been working for months to secure about 10 permits needed for the project. Now only one, from the Department of Fish and Game, is still up in the air and the county hopes to hear on Monday.
Assuming the go-ahead is given, construction is to begin the second week in September and be completed by mid- to late-October, before the rainy season. Any delay could postpone development of the route until next spring.
Officials with the county's Agricultural and Open Space District, which is overseeing the project, said they're optimistic about getting the green light.
"We're almost there. We're in the final stretch," said Maria Cipriani, the district assistant general manager.
In addition to obtaining the permits, the county has had to purchase nearly $200,000 in mitigation credits to compensate for the loss of about 1.5 acres of wetlands and tiger salamander habitat that the trails will cross.
The plan calls for a 1.8-mile multiple-use trail made of decomposed granite along the western edge of Santa Rosa's Kelly Farm from Occidental Road to Highway 12.
Another .6-mile pedestrian-only unpaved path will continue into the floodplain and run along the Laguna proper. Flooding will close the path during the rainy season.
Two parking areas are planned, one off Highway 12 near the Chevron gas station and the other off Occidental Road.
Currently, public access to waterway is limited. Sebastopol's Laguna Wetland Preserve, reached from the city community center, has the only public trail network on the 14-mile wetland-complex.
The nonprofit Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, which aims to restore and protect the waterway, has sought to boost awareness of the ecosystem by leading tours of the area.
For nearly a decade, since the county gained conservation easements in the area, open space district officials have also looked at creating a network of trails.
A long-range plan calls for paths along about 12 miles of the Laguna as funding becomes available.
"It definitely is a jewel," said Sara Press, an associate open space planner with the district. "People know about it and learn about it, but they don't get to access it."
The planned 2.4 miles of trail now on hold are the "easiest and most straightforward" to build, Press said. They cross land already in the public domain or parcels recently protected by the county through easements or purchases funded through the district's quarter-cent sales tax.
The new trail sections would be built with a $500,000 grant from the state Coastal Conservancy and about $225,000 from the district.
The finished paths will be deeded to the county's regional parks department, which will be responsible for their upkeep.
Jim McCray, regional parks deputy director, said the trails will be open during daylight hours and regularly patrolled. Annual maintenance costs will run about $30,000, he said.
Meanwhile, the Laguna's staunchest supporters hope increased public access to the area won't lead to litter problems or impact wildlife.
In addition to leading tours of the area, staff and volunteers with the nonprofit Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation have planted thousands of native trees and plants in the area in the past five years to help restore habitat.