Gaye LeBaron: Friends rally for Santa Rosa’s open-space heart, Trione-Annadel State Park

Today we’re talking about Trione-Annadel State Park, that magnificent stretch of hills and dales where, if a runner, hiker, horseman or mountain biker starts in Howarth and enters through Spring Lake, he or she can do at least 15 miles on pathways before emerging in Kenwood.

(Of course, as armchair jockeys are quick to point out, then they have to get home.)

I am aware I am preaching to the choir here because most of you already know what an asset this is to our area. It is the most-used park in this part of Northern California, closing in on 150,000 visits a year to its 5,500 acres.

All that love comes with some problems, as Supervising Ranger Neill Fogarty points out. One, of course, is abuse - physical abuse to the fields and forests by those who would “make new trails,” daredevils who sometimes fail to abide by the old rules of kindergarten to “play nicely with others,” and financial abuse from the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people each year who don’t pay the toll.

The appreciative ones, according to Fogarty, pay up at the Channel Drive entrance, and many park visitors have annual park passes, but there are the inevitable freeloaders, their mission made easier by the fact the park can be entered from so many populated areas - not only Santa Rosa, Kenwood and Bennett Ridge but all borders in between. Many nearby homeowners can walk into the park from their neighborhood.

The wildfires of last year took their toll. Some 3,100 acres, about two-thirds of the park, were burned over. The good news is that virtually all the trails are open again, although with some restrictions in certain areas for horses.

The open park, filled with people once more, is, as Fogarty points out, a classic example of nature’s ability to heal itself - so much better at it, I might point out, than our species, which doesn’t have deep enough roots, or built-in escape plans.

Fogarty, taking the long view and exhibiting the kind of understanding of nature that makes people want to be park rangers, points out that the fires “did the park a lot of good. With the spring rains, the wildflowers are amazing.”

It’s not the weather, the winds or the flames that are the biggest threats. It’s the traffic. Parks like this need friends, which is why, three years ago, an organization that calls itself just that, Friends of Trione-Annadel, was organized. Its membership represents the spectrum of usage - hikers and horsemen, runners, mountain bikers - everyone from the casual stroller to the dedicated botanist and naturalist on the prowl to catalog a new plant. Or mushroom. Or moss.

The possibilities are endless.

There are even those, I am told, who go to look for snakes.


THE FRIENDS are planning a benefit dinner June 30 at the Friedman Center where they will hear all the good reasons that such a place needs support. And they will undoubtedly hear a little about how this great gift to the Valley of the Moon and its neighbors came to be.

There are three names that are to be written large in the park’s life story - Hutchinson, Coney and Trione.

An immigrant Irishman named Samuel Hutchinson bought the southwest portion of Rancho Los Guilucos, the old Mexican land grant, in 1871, and named it, legend says, for his eldest daughter Annie.

Sam and, later his son Tom, ran cattle, planted hops and maybe some orchards.

By the 1880s, there was a hop kiln on the Sonoma Road and a railroad stopping at the station with the Annadel name to carry basalt blocks from quarries in the hills to pave the Bay Area’s city streets.

In the 1930s, the Hutchinson family sold the entire ranch, Annadel Farms, to a wealthy Bay Area industrialist named Joe Coney.

Joe is a story unto himself. He made his first fortune as a naval architect, designing destroyers for the Navy in World War I, and with partner Stanley Hiller, a helicopter pioneer, he parlayed his shipbuilding skills into a fleet of oil tankers.

His investments were varied. He owned wide expanses, literally millions of acres, in South America.

His brother, Herb, lived in the ranch house and managed the acreage. Joe built himself a little house at the foot of the hills, a weekend retreat that today is the Wild Oak Saddle Club.

With what Henry Trione called “Joe’s Midas touch,” he discovered deposits of perlite, a mineral used in industry, on the land.

But times and fortunes can alter, and - I’m going to let Henry tell it, with excerpts from his 2014 memoir:

“Joe, who lived to be over 103 years old, was a hospitable host, allowing horsemen and friends to enjoy the vast area with its many trails and its lake. From the ranch’s high elevations everyone enjoyed the views - the Trail Blazers and many other riding groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts … military units, the Marines, the National Guard, held maneuvers there.”

The lake he created at Spring Creek’s source was a familiar destination to hikers and picnickers - and on hot days the occasional rule-breaking skinny-dipper. He named it Ilsanjo, a combination of his and his wife Ilsa’s names.

Henry: “Coney enjoyed his land for more than 30 years. But fortunes change and assessments and taxes rise. (His) property taxes rose 700 percent in the early ’60s, prompting him to sell, in ’63, the former hop yard along Highway 12.”

The property Henry refers to is today’s Oakmont.


WITH 5,000-PLUS acres left, which he mortgaged to pay his taxes, Coney began planning to develop the property and went looking for a partner.

The one he found - or who found him - was Wayne Valley, owner of the Oakland Raiders and developer of the controversial Lake of the Pines in the Sierra foothills.

Valley took an option on the property and, when Coney defaulted on the mortgage, bought the whole 5,000-plus acres. He had, as Henry writes, “his own big plans for the development he called Santa Rosa Lakes.”

His Lakeworld project called for 5,000 homes for up to 20,000 people, three lakes, equestrian trails, some open space - all the amenities offered in second-home communities sprouting in many pretty places in the late ’70s.

Sonoma County’s still-new environmentalists were properly horrified and opposition began to organize.

But Henry, with his statewide connections, was way ahead.

As one of the horsemen who had accepted Coney’s hospitality and come to know the trails of Annadel, Henry was - well, “aghast” is not a word he would have used but he would probably agree that it fits.

What he wrote is: “I knew how beautiful it was. And as much as I liked Wayne, (Henry was an investor in the Raiders) I felt the scale of his project was overwhelming.”

He joined the city manager, Ken Blackman, in the chorus of “Over my dead body!”

In 1969, with duck hunting friend Joe Long, the Covelo native who created a drug store empire, Henry became a founder of the California State Parks Foundation, an organization that has benefited, and in some cases saved, many a park facility since.

Annadel was the new foundation’s first project.

Henry was its first chairman and his tenure lasted 14 years.

To hold the land while the foundation got - to offer a little Joe Long pun - its ducks in a row, the Trione family optioned the property from Valley. There was federal money to pay for half of Valley’s asking price for the land. The foundation and hometown donations bought the rest.

At the fore of those hometown donations was Henry. In his memoir, he says, “My total ‘investment’ in the park, including the option was more than $1 million.”

That is not only a vast oversimplification but also, one suspects, a far-too-modest accounting of the creation of a local treasure. In 2012, when the park system experienced a deficit that turned out to be temporary, Henry is the one who handed $100,000 to Sonoma County Regional Parks to fund a temporary partnership for Annadel.

Henry died in 2015 and the State Parks Commission, flying in the face of stated policies, renamed Annadel, adding “Trione” to the official title.

Now the Friends, many of whom are truly Henry’s “friends and relations,” are intending to build a kind of “hope chest” for the park’s future, keeping it safe from whatever threatens in the years ahead.

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