A new path nearing completion in Oakmont will soon link the retirement community in east Santa Rosa to Trione-Annadel State Park, and in the process may help solve a long-simmering access dispute.
The 400-foot-long gravel trail is designed to allow bicycle riders and pedestrians to skirt a piece of private property over which the city once held an easement frequently used by the public.
The new path runs parallel to that driveway, links up with city property once used as a wastewater treatment plant and creates a continuous link between Stone Bridge Drive and Channel Drive on the northern side of Annadel.
“We’ve totally bypassed the private property with this path,” said Ken Well, executive director of the Sonoma Trails Council, which is building the trail with 36 yards of gravel and a lot of volunteer labor from Oakmont residents.
The trail should open as soon as the area has five solid days of warm weather to help the material set, Wells said.
If the city designates a recreational trail across its property – which it is expected to do later this month – the city property and the Oakmont trail together could create a public trail that will not only allow Oakmont residents to access the park but help cyclists stay off busy Highway 12.
“It’s really a good example of the city working with a community group to come up with a creative solution,” said Mayor Chris Coursey, who rode past the path on his bike Thursday afternoon.
The trail would create an alternative to the once-popular route that cyclists for decades used through the Villages at Wild Oak gated community, which is tucked between Oakmont and Annadel. Following complaints that packs of recreational cyclists were zipping along their pathways and quiet streets, the homeowners association in 2008 put up signs barring cyclists.
The city sued to preserve that access for cyclists, but after years of legal wrangling a judge agreed the easement was only for pedestrians, horseback riders and emergency vehicles. The city settled the case last year, agreeing to pay the association $183,000 in legal fees.
But while that case was pending, Oakmont residents began using two other access points more frequently. In both cases, those points cross property owned by the Benson family, which owns two RV storage lots along Oakmont Creek.
The Bensons in 2014 fenced off the easternmost access path, near Meadow Creek Court, following a dispute over maintenance and liability, said Hugh Helm, who has spearheaded the effort to preserve the neighborhood’s access to Annadel.
Brad Benson later put up “no trespassing” signs along the driveway to the treatment plant, increasing the motivation of the Oakmont Village Association to find a solution, Helm said. The easement to the plant has two major limitations. Since the treatment plant is defunct, the easement may already be invalid. And it was only ever for city employee access, not public access, Helm said.
While Benson has not enforced his No Trespassing signs, he would be within his rights to put up a gate and give the city the key, Helm said.
Brad Benson did not return a call for comment.
A number of issues remain, including whether Oakmont will agree to allow full public access along path.