Now that spring is here, it's time to explore these new and largely unbeaten paths

  • 6/9/2005: D1: Toting son Kai, Craig Anderson, LandPaths executive director, ties a ribbon to some grass to denote a trail that will be mowed to connect two roads in the Islands in the Sky ridge top in the Willow Creek addition to Sonoma Coast State Beach near Jenner.

    PC: Landpaths executve director Craig Anderson, toting son Kai along, ties a ribbon to some grass to denote a trail to be mowed to connect two roads in the Islands in the Sky ridgetop in the Willow Creek addition to the Sonoma Coast State Park near Jenner.

If you?re a diehard trailsman your hiking boots are always dirty. Rain and nippy temperatures won?t deter you. But for all you fair-weather walkers, the outdoors season begins today with the vernal equinox.

The early shift to daylight savings two weeks ago stretched your available hours. You have that much more time to gobble up the copious natural beauty that tempts at almost every turn each in the North Bay. With so much undeveloped land set aside in parks and preserves along the North Coast, hikers have a chance to literally venture off the proverbial beaten paths of Annadel and Spring Lake parks to places where they might not run into another soul outside their own hiking group.

This year there are a number of new and still largely undiscovered spots to explore, taking in the diverse Sonoma County geography. Many are open by tour or permits only but worth the extra planning. Some are in the evening, taking advantage of the longer days or even advancing moonlight.

Hiking in early spring offers particular rewards, said Jonathan Glass, field programs director for Sonoma County LandPaths, which leads hikes on publicly owned properties, many otherwise not opened for unlimited public access.

?I like spring because you still have enough water in the land so it?s very much alive. It just seems like it?s a time of new growth,? he said. ?It?s very crisp and fresh. Later in the summer and fall it?s nice but everything is crispy by then.?

Here are a few less trampled spots:

<b>Healdsburg Ridge in Healdsburg:</b> This recently opened piece of wildland, protected by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, is a great place for a gentle hike or pondside picnic with the family.

Unlike many of the open space properties, these 160 acres can be explored any time. Several trails lead through grasslands, oak woodlands and chaparral. The higher reaches overlook the Russian River where it bends through Healdsburg, panoramic views that take in the Mayacmas and Fitch Mountain. You can access the <b>Fox Pond Trailhead at the east end of Arabian Way in Healdsburg.</b>

On April 23 from 5:45 p.m. to 8 p.m., LandPaths will lead a guided walk, pointing out native plants and wildflowers on the ridge. The moderate two- to three-mile hike, is free and families are welcome. Bring a picnic dinner. For information go to LandPaths.org, e-mail outings at LandPaths.org or call 524-9318.

<b>Steamer Landing Park in Petaluma: </b>A bit of wilderness awaits only steps away from downtown Petaluma in this new pocket-sized nature area near the Turning Basin. Few people even suspect it?s there, says David Yearsley, founder and director of Friends of the Petaluma River.

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