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$17 million invested in new and improved parks in Sonoma County

A 75-acre addition to Crane Creek Regional Park and an extended city trail will enable nearly everyone in Rohnert Park to walk or cycle to the park and enjoy a sweeping panorama of urban and rural landscapes west of Sonoma Mountain.

A new 21-acre park on Petaluma’s long-vacant McNear Peninsula will give the county’s southernmost city a “Central Park” close to downtown and soon to be surrounded by residential development.

A 3,000-foot trail in Bodega Bay will add a segment to the California Coastal Trail featuring a view of the harbor that accommodates the county’s commercial fishing fleet and private boats.

Those are half of the six projects receiving $5.8 million in grants from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, matched by an additional $11.7 million from four cities, the county parks system and a private foundation — the largest joint investment in recreational lands since 2008.

The projects will add 145 acres of new and enhanced parks and trail extensions from Healdsburg to Petaluma and out to Bodega Bay, and county officials highlighted the importance of outdoor recreation as the public gains freedom from coronavirus constraints on leisure time.

“Across the county, our communities are healthier and happier when they have access to nature,” Lynda Hopkins, chair of both the open space district board and Board of Supervisors, said in a statement.

“Connecting with the outdoors has been more critical than ever this year,” she said, calling the $17.5 million investment “absolutely money well spent.”

Caryl Hart, the former county parks chief who is now the interim open space district general manager, said the pandemic “further reinforced how vital it is for our communities to have equitable access to parks and open spaces.”

Since 1990, the district — funded by a voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax — has protected more than 117,000 acres, and has awarded more than 50 open space grants totaling over $37 million since 1994.

Until the 2020 funding cycle, the program required applicants to provide matching funds on a one-to-one basis, but this time around it simply requested “some sort of a match, whatever you can bring to the table,” said Misti Arias, the district’s acquisition manager.

The matching funds are “a good indication the project will be successful” and a substantial match “helps your chances of approval,” she said.

The Crane Creek Regional Park grant of $1.36 million to Rohnert Park was the largest of the six grants and received the top score in the district’s evaluation process.

The project includes a hefty addition to the popular county park east of the city and an extension of Rohnert Park’s Copeland Creek Trail across Petaluma Hill Road to the park, which is now 128 acres.

“It really meets the intention of the program,” Arias said, noting that it will enable residents from almost anywhere in the city to reach the park without a vehicle.

Rohnert Park put up more than $2.8 million in matching funds for the project that was the open space district’s first acquisition in or near the city.

A $1 million grant to the Petaluma River Park project will support development of 21 acres of currently fallow land on the McNear Peninsula, including 2,000 feet of handicapped accessible trails, restrooms and a small boat dock.

“I think it’s going to be a spectacular location,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, noting the city has long eyed the peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, as a prime park site.

It’s also about a quarter-mile from downtown Petaluma, replete with restaurants, bars and entertainment venues with a pedestrian bridge crossing the river.

“It’s not often we get a chance to add this much land in an urban area,” Arias said.

The Petaluma River Park Foundation, a nonprofit that purchased the peninsula property last year, offered nearly $2.3 million in matching funds.

Sonoma County Regional Parks sought the $795,000 grant for construction of a pedestrian and bicycle trail about two-thirds of a mile along the east side of Bodega Harbor.

The Bodega Bay Trail will be a link in the California Coastal Trail and provide safe, off-road passage through the town that becomes jammed with traffic on weekends throughout the summer.

The parks agency put up a match of nearly $1.1 million.

A $1 million grant went to the donated public park within the Montage Healdsburg resort development at the city’s northern edge donated by a developer. The city put up a $3 million match for the park project, anticipated in Healdsburg planning documents for at least 15 years.

Another $1 million grant will help pay for Santa Rosa’s first all-weather athletic fields at the 77-acre A Place to Play Community Park on West Third Street. The city put up a little over $2 million for the project.

The smallest grant was $650,000 for acquisition of a 2.3-acre addition to Windsor’s Keiser Park, matched by an equal amount from the town.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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