The fire-scarred hillsides that make up Hood Mountain Regional Park and adjoining Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood still face years of recovery from last year’s inferno, as anyone passing through the Sonoma Valley can see.
But park managers are preparing to welcome visitors back a week from now to sections of both public spaces, offering glimpses of nature’s renewal and motivation to explore the parks’ less visited northern reaches.
The Jan. 20 reopening of the Los Alamos Road gate, which provides access from Sonoma Highway both to Hood Mountain and to Sugarloaf Ridge’s McCormick Addition, marks the first opportunity for the public to begin reclaiming recreational lands closed to users since flames tore through the Mayacamas Mountains three months ago.
Though not quite half of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve will be opening Jan. 20, as well as about a quarter of Sugarloaf Ridge, “we really are excited,” said Melanie Parker, deputy director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Some of the most severely burned landscape in Sonoma County cuts through the adjoining ridgeline parks, on south-facing slopes that will likely be among the slowest to regain their cover.
Park managers are nonetheless eager to bring hikers and picnickers back to areas on the north side of the ridgeline that escaped the ravages of wildfire in October.
“You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, just outside Santa Rosa,” said Parker. “You’re surrounded on all sides by undeveloped hillsides, with this beautiful creek going through. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The entirety of Sugarloaf Ridge park, including the Adobe Canyon Road entry, will reopen Feb. 1, even though many of the trails will remain closed for repairs, Park Manager John Roney said.
Half of the park’s campsites are to reopen for Presidents Day weekend a few weeks later, with gradual openings of trails and amenities continuing after that, he said.
“It’s still beautiful, even with all the brown, burned black hills, especially in the area where it slopes down and the little green shoots are coming out,” said Marty Haidet, who was among about a dozen park volunteers who participated in trail restoration work at Sugarloaf Ridge earlier this week. “There’s meadows out there that are super green.”
October’s firestorm charred 137 square miles of Sonoma County landscape, including substantial portions of Shiloh Ranch, Sonoma Valley and Hood Mountain regional parks, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks and Schopflin Fields, run by county parks.
County parks has since reopened Sonoma Valley, Shiloh Ranch and Crane Valley Regional Park, which also suffered fire damage.
A portion of Trione-Annadel State Park that escaped the flames is now open, as well. County park personnel have capitalized on the situation to provide special hikes and programming focused on fire ecology and nature’s ability to rebound in the wake of wildfire. Rangers have been made available to answer questions from the public at reopened sites.
But state park personnel weren’t even allowed into Sugarloaf Ridge until nearly three months after the fire went through, because of safety concerns.
After that, volunteers came in to help repair wooden bridges and walkways, trails, retaining walls and other infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the inferno, Roney said.