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.
This new city park has just a quarter-mile of trail on the McNear Peninsula. But the tall native grasses and waterfowl can make you feel miles away from civilization. Views from the top of a rise offer a historical perspective on the river channel, from the grainery towers to the old barge docks.
On April 5, Friends of the Petaluma River will host an open park day at the new River Heritage Center, located in an old livery stable in the park. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. members of the Traditional Small Craft Association will stop on their annual procession of the river and show off handcrafted wooden boats and examples of traditional shipbuilding techniques. Enter the part at the end of Copeland Street across D Street from the new transit hub. Friendsofthepetalumariver.org, 763-7756.