Moms, families flock to Sonoma County parks on Mother’s Day

Gabriel Hildebrand, 9, had an important message to deliver to his mom on Mother’s Day.

“I caught one,” said Gabriel, toting his fishing pole sans fish at the park beside Roberts Lake in Rohnert Park. “Well, I almost caught one. It bit, but then it got tangled up.”

He gave the pole to his mom for untangling, and Melinda Hildebrand began sorting out the jumbled string.

“It’s OK,” she said with a smile. “A bite’s a bite.”

About that time, Gabriel’s little brother, 3-year-old Ronald, climbed up a dock railing one step too high for mom’s comfort.

She called to him, then told Gabriel to fetch his little brother. As she worked the fishing line back into shape, she acknowledged the challenges this year has posed for the Santa Rosa family.

The shelter-in-place orders, schools doing online instruction and cancellation of childrens’ summertime camps have thrust an indefinite summer upon parents. Even during Mother’s Day, it’s OK to admit days have been better.

“Yeah,” she said, just as the younger boy began protesting his brother’s rescue attempts. “It’s definitely no fun.”

In Sonoma County, the first Mother’s Day during a pandemic since the Spanish flu swept the world starting in 1918 was bright and clear by the afternoon. That prompted many moms and their families to seek a sense of normalcy at the county’s parks, which opened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic last week.

Twenty minutes north of the Rohnert Park lake beside Highway 101, Sonoma County Regional Parks aid Grace Knighten sat at the entrance to Foothills Regional Park in Windsor. By 4 p.m., she had counted a few hundred people.

“People are super excited that our park has a soft opening,” Knighten said. “I can tell that they are excited to come in here and hike and exercise. A lot of people have been cooped up in their home for months, they’ve told me, and that they’ve been really looking forward to this. So it’s nice that we’re able to open it for people.”

Lines of cars were parked along the side of the road near Foothills park, a clear indicator many residents were not heeding the spirit of the parks opening, meant mostly for neighboring residents.

An A-frame sign at the entrance to the park carried a warning: “Crowded Parks Lead To Closed Parks.”

Knighten said most people who came into the park had masks, which are necessary on tight trails that don’t allow for 6 feet of separation.

“With big families and groups coming in, it is hard to social distance, especially on a narrow trail,” she said. “That’s why we ask people to bring masks with them.”

At Taylor Mountain, another Sonoma County regional park, Novato residents Christine Anderson and daughter Ariel Anderson, 16, hiked to the top before getting hungry and having a bite to eat by Robert Lake in Rohnert Park.

Christine Anderson said she and her husband both still have their jobs, but she can’t help but be sad about the things her children are missing out on - notably basketball for her daughter, and high school graduation for her 17-year-old son, Cassius.

“When I woke up this morning, I woke up trying to feel as normal as possible,” she said.

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