Subscribe

Help sought to kickstart recovery at fire-scarred Hood Mountain Regional Park

Recovery is coming slowly at the 2,000-acre park badly burned in last year’s Glass fire. Here’s how you can help.|

Donations to the Hood Mountain Fire Recovery Campaign of the Bill & Dave Legacy Fund can be made through the Parks Foundation website or by mail at Sonoma County Parks Foundation, 2300 County Center Drive, #120A, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.

More information is available at sonomacountyparksfoundation.org/hood-mountain.html

The Glass fire was merciless as it blazed across the Mayacamas Mountains and through Hood Mountain Regional Park last fall, charring 80% of the 2,000-acre park and open space preserve and closing it to the public indefinitely.

Though much of the fire-adapted landscape eventually will recover, the Sept. 27 wildfire burned at high enough intensity to cause significant damage to nature and man-made infrastructure now in need of replacement at the county park on the eastern flank of Sonoma Valley.

The Sonoma County Regional Parks foundation has launched a fundraising campaign to help, seeded with a $10,000 challenge grant from nearby Kenwood Vineyards, a longtime wine sponsor for the foundation’s Funky Friday summertime concert series in the park.

“They specifically wanted to do something for Hood Mountain because a lot of their staff live in the area,” said Melissa Kelley, executive director of the foundation. “These are folks that are looking at this burned mountainside day after day. They have that ever-present reminder.”

Some of it’s pretty hard to look at: dark slopes shorn of their once thick tree cover, laying bare the chiseled terrain surrounding Hood Mountain; ridges bristling with charred, skeletal trees silhouetted against the sky; hillside trails skirted by blackened timber, the surface bark smooth like charcoal.

Burned fir trees form a spine over the steep hillsides of Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb.13, 2021 above the Valley of the Moon.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Burned fir trees form a spine over the steep hillsides of Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb.13, 2021 above the Valley of the Moon. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

The 67,484-acre Glass fire burned through Hood Mountain on its initial run from Napa County, cutting north to south across the Mayacamas and burning with particularly high intensity in the northern and interior areas of the park that had been left untouched by the 2017 North Bay fires, which burned so much of the surrounding region.

Where Los Alamos Road leads into the north end of the park, bright green grass already has sprouted on open meadows, offering a sharp contrast in the shadows of darkened hillsides and scorched soil stretching down toward the headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek.

As the meadows of Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, begin to green up, right, the steep hillsides of the southern Mayacamas Range of the park interior and bordering private land, bare sage reminders of the Glass fire's torturous September 2020 run from Napa to Sonoma County. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
As the meadows of Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, begin to green up, right, the steep hillsides of the southern Mayacamas Range of the park interior and bordering private land, bare sage reminders of the Glass fire's torturous September 2020 run from Napa to Sonoma County. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

The fire ran roughshod through the Sargent cypress pygmy forest, which was just recovering from large-scale disruption by bulldozers during the 2017 firefight. A rare species of dwarf tree that grows in pockets of serpentine soil dotted around California’s Coast Range, the cypress trees were “very much annihilated” by the latest bout of flames, said Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker.

Where the 2017 Nuns fire burned into the southern end of the park, around the Pythian Road entrance, the Glass fire burned more spottily. In areas where it did take off, it further damaged trees already made vulnerable by the earlier fire, requiring they be cut down lest they pose a danger to future park visitors or destabilize hillsides, park officials said.

Sonoma County Regional Park's ranger Josh Crosbie surveys a fallen oak, at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, torched during the Glass fire in  September 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Sonoma County Regional Park's ranger Josh Crosbie surveys a fallen oak, at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, torched during the Glass fire in September 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

Park maintenance crews have felled hundreds upon hundreds of hazard trees already, and placed erosion-control wattles around the park to help direct water flow and do what’s possible to prevent mudslides and debris flows, though the area largely remains at high risk if sufficient rainfall occurs.

Whitaker said the overall cost of recovery was somewhere in the range of $1.5 to $2 million — funding the county hopes to recover, at least in part, through the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

The work includes replacing man-made sites such as the entirety of the Azalea Creek Campground, of which only a single metal food storage box survived.

Directional and informational signs, footbridges, retaining walls, picnic tables, several structures, steps — “pretty much anything made of wood” was destroyed or incinerated, Kelley said.

A picnic table burned in half at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021 as a reminder of the parks damage from the September 2020 Glass fire.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
A picnic table burned in half at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021 as a reminder of the parks damage from the September 2020 Glass fire. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

But it no longer makes sense to rebuild with wood or other materials unable to survive whatever fire comes next — meaning heftier front-investments that won’t be covered through the claims process, Whitaker said.

That’s where the combined efforts of the Regional Parks Foundation, the Kenwood Vineyards challenge grant and the Hood Mountain Fire Recovery Campaign of the Bill & Dave Legacy Fund come in.

The fund was created last year to honor the contributions of Bill Myers and Dave Chalk, who for 20 years led a popular hike series around Sonoma County’s parks and who were especially committed to the well-being of Hood Mountain and adjoining Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Myers and Chalk also were instrumental in the long-running Funky Fridays concerts, which ran for several years at Sugarloaf then were moved to Hood Mountain before they were put on hiatus last year.

The new campaign is intended to raise funds that for more fire-resilient construction.

Bay laurel leaves, curled and sapped of moisture. Saturday Feb. 13, 2021 at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, torched during the Glass fire in September 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Bay laurel leaves, curled and sapped of moisture. Saturday Feb. 13, 2021 at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, torched during the Glass fire in September 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

“It’s important for us to recognize that wildfires are occurring more frequently in Sonoma County and to make our parks better prepared for these conditions,” Steve Ehret, a park planning division manager, said in an announcement about the challenge grant. “At Hood Mountain this means replacing wooden retaining walls and foot bridges with stone or metal; replacing plastic culverts with metal; enhancing trails so that they can accommodate firefighting vehicles; and introducing features that help support firefighting efforts, such as water catchment systems and tool storage at bathrooms.”

The 2-mile Lawson Trail, part of the park’s 247-acre Lawson Expansion, opened mere weeks before the fire and fared comparatively well. Of particular importance, given the expense of rebuilding bridges, the trail bridge survived the fire, Kelley said.

But the entire park will remain closed until it is demonstrably safe for visitors to enter, officials said. They hope to open a loop of trail from Pythain Road up to the Lawson area, perhaps by spring, so the public can see what the fire did, Whitaker said.

”It is striking,“ he said. ”It would be a pretty profound experience walking through and getting into the park.“

Sonoma County Regional Park's ranger Josh Crosbie surveys burned bay laurel, oak, madrone and fir trees at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, that was torched during the Glass fire during September 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Sonoma County Regional Park's ranger Josh Crosbie surveys burned bay laurel, oak, madrone and fir trees at Hood Mountain Regional Park, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, that was torched during the Glass fire during September 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

Park Ranger Josh Crosbie said it is clear to him that the public is ready and waiting.

“I feel like I get asked every day,” he said during a walk in the park last weekend. “When is Hood going to open up?”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Donations to the Hood Mountain Fire Recovery Campaign of the Bill & Dave Legacy Fund can be made through the Parks Foundation website or by mail at Sonoma County Parks Foundation, 2300 County Center Drive, #120A, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.

More information is available at sonomacountyparksfoundation.org/hood-mountain.html

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette