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Sonoma County’s Foothill Regional Park, burned by Kincade fire, open for scenic holiday walks

Using two lightweight trekking poles, Mark Angell, 64, walked up Three Lakes Trail at Foothill Regional Park for his first holiday hike there in years. His wife Kathy, also 64, waited for him to catch up at one point Monday afternoon.

The unavoidable smell of wet ash and the sight of scorched oak and manzanita trees was almost overshadowed by an often thick cover of green grass shoots poking out of black soil. Kathy Angell, who like her husband is a retired schoolteacher, said she’s visited Foothill maybe 20 times since it closed for two weeks after the Kincade fire that ignited in late October and burned through roughly 95% of the 211-acre park in Windsor that has 7 miles of trails.

The couple and dozens of others took a break Monday from holiday festivities to visit the recovering park. For many area residents, holiday walks and hikes are an almost necessary counter to Christmas and New Year’s overeating.

One of the most beloved of Sonoma County’s 50 regional parks, Foothill has been partially open since mid-November. However, some county residents, and even some who live nearby in Windsor, still don’t know that.

“You know what’s great about this park? It just poured yesterday and you can walk the whole trail today,” Kathy Angell said.

Though badly burned by wildfire and scarred by bulldozer fire breaks, Foothill continues to be one of the county park system’s most prized gems, said David Robinson, park manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks.

“We scrambled to get our crews up there because we know it’s such a popular park for the neighbors and people who live in the area,” Robinson said.

Robinson said trails toward the eastern and northeastern end of the park remain closed. According to a county parks map, these include the pond loops A and B, as well as the Oakwood, Ravine and Alta Vista trails.

Open trails include the Westside, Three Lakes, Soap Plant, Lower Oakwood and Meadow trails. Trails that are closed are marked with A-frame barricades at various trail entrances.

The damage caused by the Kincade fire is evident everywhere. Waddles of straw line creeks and waterways to prevent erosion, and black chainsawed branches and tree trunks line various portions of Oakwood Trail.

On the slopes west of the Westside Trail, entire groves of wiry black oaks stood naked in the sun. But tender grass shoots and sparse green plants were the first evidence the park was in recovery mode.

Cyrus Gomez-Alcala, 27, also visited the park Monday with his twin sister, Kailani Gomez-Alcala, and her daughter Avery, 3, to get a look at the damage from the vast wildfire.

Gomez-Alcala, a former Santa Rosa resident visiting family for the holidays, works as a videographer in Columbus, Ohio and was using a drone to take video footage of the park.

“This is kind of new to me, seeing all the devastation. It’s kind of surreal,” he said.

“It’s still beautiful,” his sister Kailani said.

“It’s good to see there’s still life,” he said of all the plants and grass growing next to burned trees.

Jennifer Lynn Alvarez of Windsor, an author of children’s books, walked her dog Roxie, a rescue pit bull, down one of the back trails Monday. Alvarez, whose books are often inspired by Foothill’s landscape, said she and Roxie walk through the park four to five times a week.

Her latest book, a young adult story about a group of teenagers who set an accidental fire, was inspired by recent North Coast blazes.

“We really missed it when it was closed,” Alvarez said, adding that she and her pets have probably walked through Foothill thousands of times since she moved to Windsor in 1999. “This place means a lot to us.”

Robinson said a lot of work needs to be done before all of the park’s trails can be reopened. He said more trees are likely to come down and a wooden foot bridge destroyed by the fire still needs to be reconstructed.

“It’s a great thing for people to have an accessible park that has wonderful views and a variety of trails,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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