Under stormy skies, a long-awaited trail along the eastern side of Laguna de Santa Rosa got its public debut Friday.
Several dozen park supporters and local government officials huddled against intermittent sprinkles and unveiled the new 2.4-mile network at its southern trailhead off Highway 12 just east of Sebastopol.
"Today you get to see the combination of protecting natural resources and providing public access," said Bill Keene, general manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
The taxpayer-supported agency oversaw planning and construction of the $1.7 million project, which broke ground two years ago.
The trail network includes a 1.8-mile multiple-use path for pedestrians, horse users and cyclists. It runs along the western edge of the City of Santa Rosa's Kelly Farm from the Highway 12 trailhead near the Chevron gas station, just east of Sebastopol, north to Occidental Road, where another gravel trailhead is to open in a week.
Parking and trail use will be free, although officials said that could change based on staffing and upkeep needs for the pathway.
The other part of the new network, a 0.6-mile pedestrian-only path, dips into the floodplain and runs along the Laguna proper.
Both trails are unpaved. The longer path, which is accessible to wheelchair users, is made of compacted, decomposed granite.
Park users and officials applauded the trail addition, which links up with a nearby City of Sebastopol loop and gives users an up-close view of verdant wetlands and expansive farm fields.
"It's just a wonderful place and close-by," said Tom Ecklund of Sebastopol, who was out walking Cody, his Catahoula Leopard dog, on Friday. "I've been waiting ever since I got wind of it many years ago."