For 29 years, David Simon has been going for walks on a reservoir trail near his house that leads to open space and a scenic panorama of Healdsburg and its surroundings.
But last weekend, the retired businessman said he was confronted by representatives for the property owner in a pick-up who told him to stay off the land. An arriving sheriff's deputy also warned him he was trespassing and said he would be subject to arrest if he did it again.
Although it might appear to be nothing more than an open-and-shut case of a private property owner asserting his rights, Simon and many others who walk their dogs, hike or bike on the property at the end of Sunnyvale Drive are baffled at the apparent sudden change in the owner's attitude toward them.
"I'm just irate," said Simon, who like others questions whether the public has established a right to traverse the land after so many years of doing so.
"I understand it's private property," said Simon, but "there should be some accommodation made," for people to use it for recreation.
"It's been a part of the community that's walked there forever," said Kevin West, a hotel manager who walks his dog to the reservoir most mornings.
He said people who have gone there for decades are "completely flabbergasted," as to why they are being shooed off the land now.
North County Supervisor Mike McGuire said Wednesday that he's had more than a dozen phone calls to his office on the issue and the City of Healdsburg has had a significant response from the public as well.
"This is a storied property," McGuire said, describing it as special to the city's past and future.
"For over 30 years, residents have been hiking on this gorgeous overlook," he said. "On the east side you have the Russian River and on the west, beautiful views of downtown Healdsburg."
McGuire said "there has always been a quest to potentially purchase this for public access. That desire still exists."
The 160 acres in question have been owned since 1992 by the Raja Development Corp., headed by Carter Randall Callahan of Napa.
But there are some unique conditions on the parcel, generally referred to as the Callahan property, that have led to confusion over access, even though officials say the public is not entitled to be there.
One is the city's easement over part of it to get to Healdsburg's nearby municipal reservoir, water tanks and wells.
The land lies outside the city, but Healdsburg has a paved road across the property that begins at the end of Sunnyvale Drive, where there is a small parking area. It is where many residents enter the property.
Also at the entrance is a sign from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District indicating the land is protected and won't be developed in the future. That refers to the conservation easement on the majority of the property, made possible by the $550,000 the open space district paid to Raja in 1996 to keep 105 acres of the parcel undeveloped in perpetuity.
The Callahan property also abuts the 152-acre Healdsburg Ridge Open Space preserve, which is open to the public for hiking and other passive uses.
That combination of factors -#8212; open space paid for by tax dollars, the city access road and longtime use of the property by area residents -#8212; has led many to believe they are allowed to be there.