Healdsburg backs Fitch Mountain park

The top of Fitch Mountain, the landmark that helps define Healdsburg, is one step closer to becoming a public park.

The City Council on Monday night unanimously approved an agreement with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District to buy and manage 199 acres of the mountaintop for recreation, such as hiking and biking.

"We're breaking the mold," Vice Mayor Susan Jones said. "We're seeing parks close all over California, and here we want to open one."

The arrangement involving the county, city and Landpaths, a nonprofit group that will help manage the property, was hailed as an innovative public-private partnership allowing the entire mountaintop to be preserved in perpetuity as well as used for "passive" recreational uses.

Despite some doubts voiced by a couple speakers about the cost for the city to maintain a park, particularly fire prevention measures on the thickly wooded mountain, officials expressed confidence it will work.

"It's smart government, efficient and cost-effective," said Open Space General Manager Bill Keene. "It will benefit citizens for years to come."

"I'm pretty stoked," said Craig Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, which is dedicated to land stewardship and outdoor access. "Anytime you see chunks of wild land purchased adjacent to an urban area is phenomenal."

"We have looked at that mountain for generations. Now is the time to enjoy the mountain for everything it has to offer," north county Supervisor Mike McGuire told the council.

The county Board of Supervisor this morning is scheduled to vote to approve the purchase of the property for $1.8 million from F.R.A.N.C.E.Z. LLC, a Delaware-based corporation that has owned the top of Fitch Mountain since 2003.

Funds to buy the land are derived from the Open Space District's voter-approved, quarter-cent sales tax.

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