Lower Russian River to get first big regional park near Monte Rio
Sonoma County has acquired 515 acres of forest on the southern edge of Monte Rio that will be protected and opened to the public as the first major regional park in the lower Russian River area, offering a new outdoor destination for residents and the region’s steady stream of visitors.
The property, long eyed by park planners as a potential gem in the growing collection of preserved open space in west county, contains towering stands of mixed redwood and Douglas fir forest, as well as more than a mile of Dutch Bill Creek, which feeds into the Russian River.
In addition, its location offers options for future links to the Sonoma Coast State Beach and an envisioned 5½-mile “parkway” south through the redwoods between Monte Rio and Occidental.
“There are so many things about this site that are incredible,” said Misti Arias, acquisitions manager for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which helped fund the $3.9 million purchase.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who championed the deal from its earliest stages, touted the economic benefits of expanded outdoor opportunities, imagining the new park as a recreational hub that spurs and sustains commerce and community in nearby Monte Rio, which struggles with some of the highest unemployment rates countywide.
“I foresee just an awesome future for Monte Rio,” Hopkins said of the penultimate town along the Russian River before reaching the coast.
Long owned by the well-known Torr family, whose forebears settled in the area in 1915, the property is spread across eight parcels and three sections of land bisected by Main Street, Dutch Bill Creek and Bohemian Highway. Nearly 90% of the land is forested and it has been logged periodically, most recently in 1998.
“There’s always a lot of joy driving by the property,” said Michele Torr McDonell, who resides mostly in Sebastopol but remains active in Monte Rio, where her late parents’ home remains a sort of family base camp.
“I think there’s even a greater joy now that it’s going to be in the public use in the not too distant future,” she said.
The largest portion of the property lies west of Main Street, between Schoolhouse Gulch and Tyrone Road, and rises steeply up toward the west through dense forest toward a ridgeline shared with the Mendocino Redwood Co. About a half-mile across the lumber company’s land is the eastern boundary of the Willow Creek addition to the Sonoma Coast State Beach.
East of Bohemian Highway, the land adjoins the exclusive Bohemian Grove and LandPaths’ 1,000-acre Bohemia Ecological Preserve, rising to another ridge through forest, and, to the southeast, terrain with rare serpentine soils and Sargent cypress.
In the middle, south of the Creekside Park Skate Park, between Main Street and Bohemian Highway, the duff-covered floodplain of Dutch Bill Creek is shaded beneath second-growth redwoods and arching California bays, and will offer an easily accessible refuge for visitors.
The property is nearly twice as large as two of the county’s most visited parks, Spring Lake and Riverfront, and smaller than those frequented by avid hikers, including Shiloh Ranch, Taylor Mountain and North Sonoma Mountain.
But, between the street-level walking paths along the creek and miles of former logging roads and fire trails in the steeper forest, the landscape will offer varied recreational opportunities for hikers and cyclists.
“It’s just a natural,” said Russ Pinto, an acquisition specialist with Sonoma County Regional Parks. He noted that one could sit at the skatepark in town and view the forested slopes in either direction. “People already consider it a park, and have for a long time.”
Future uses could include horseback riding, picnic grounds and outdoor education, though formal planning and outreach is likely to take three to five years, said Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker.
The department also hopes to develop a separated, paved bike path along Main Street at some point, and views the creek tract as the first step in a long-envisioned parkway connecting Monte Rio and Occidental. With State Parks’ Willow Creek addition so close in proximity, there already is talk, as well, about negotiating rights of way or a purchase agreement that would permit trail connections to the coast.
County parks personnel have long envisioned some kind of trail along Dutch Bill Creek, including the project in General Plan updates dating back to 1979. Mountain bikers already use the Mendocino Redwood Co. property heavily through informal agreements, Hopkins said, and the potential for connectivity could help bolster Monte Rio’s stake as an outdoor recreational destination.