Sonoma Land Trust finalizing deal to add land to Hood Mountain Regional Park
Sonoma County parks officials and county land acquisition partners are finalizing a deal this month that will add an additional 162 acres to Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, unlocking for the first time a privately owned and largely untouched wilderness in the Mayacamas Mountains to public access.
The $319,000 deal for the private property by Sonoma Land Trust, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that acquires land to preserve it as open space, will allow Sonoma County Regional Parks to expand its network of hiking trails and overnight camping destinations, as well as protect a slice of highly coveted wildlands between Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park from the possibility of future development.
“We’re only a half hour away from Santa Rosa, but this place still feels so wild and pristine,” said Wendy Eliot, conservation director for Sonoma Land Trust. “And it protects that gap between Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf. It’s very exciting.
“Regional Parks has already identified a potential camping spot, and it’s right above Santa Rosa Creek. So people will be able to take in all of this beauty. It’s so wonderfully peaceful.”
When complete, the Hood Mountain addition will extend protected open space for ?4,400 acres from Hood Mountain to Sugarloaf.
The private property bordering the two parks is owned by Glen Ellen resident Margaret Spaulding, who purchased it with her former husband 17 years ago.
It includes the headwaters of the southern fork of Santa Rosa Creek, expansive oak woodlands and critical habitat for an abundance of flora and fauna including federally threatened steelhead trout, black bear and mountain lions. The land on a recent day was bursting with wildflowers. Red-tailed hawks drifted above a sloping ridge line, and a waterfall on the property was still flowing from this year’s rains.
The addition will also extend public access and connect and protect a wildlife corridor stretching from the mountainous Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument that runs through Napa, Lake, Mendocino and Yolo counties, south to Marin County.
“This will help wildlife - like those big cats - move more easily and safely through this region,” Eliot said. “It’s like a wildlife highway.”
The wildlife corridor is also home to badger, foxes, porcupines and numerous other species, Eliot said.
After the lengthy process of developing a master plan for the park is complete, the new Hood Mountain property is expected to include visitor amenities such as a campground where the property’s homestead once stood and new hiking trails, opening up breathtaking views overlooking the rugged Mayacamas.
“For us, it’s about protecting our open space and making our parks more accessible,” Eliot said.
“If people come out here and see these views and connect with the outdoors, it will make them more likely to step up and want to help protect these places we cherish and love.”
Spaulding, who donated a conservation easement to Sonoma Land Trust to protect the property when she purchased it, said she is selling the land to strengthen the open space protections and ensure it will not be converted into a vineyard or developed.
“When we bought it, there was Astroturf covering the roots of this big oak tree. It was pretty abused land, so I thought of this as an opportunity to save something and return it to wilderness,” said Spaulding on a recent sunny afternoon, overlooking a vast expanse above Santa Rosa Creek. “It was always intended as a wildlife sanctuary.”
Spaulding said her passion for the outdoors was ignited as a child growing up in Berkeley.
“My dad would take me hiking in the Berkeley hills, so I think since then I’ve always just loved animals,” she said.
Since 1998, when Spaulding purchased the property from its previous owners, the land has been used for little more than camping a few times a year. Electricity connections have been cut off, there is no running water and former buildings on the property have been taken down.
Sonoma Land Trust fast-tracked the deal to purchase the property from Spaulding through grant funding. It took roughly a year to complete, officials said.
“Margaret called me and said she was going to put it on the market, and I said ‘Wait, please don’t do that,’” Eliot said.
“It gave us a shot to do a conservation deal.”
Sonoma Land Trust officials are expected to complete the deal with Spaulding by June 30, when it will be donated to Regional Parks. The Board of Supervisors signed off on the transfer last month.
“It’s incredible,” said Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart. “There’s already a disturbed area with the former homestead, so people who want to go on a multiday backcountry hiking and camping trip can have that experience and at the same time, we can preserve this piece of private property that has critical natural resources and very important wildlife habitat.”
Hart estimated the new site will open to the public in about ?18 months. In the interim, parks officials will undertake an extensive public planning process to identify new hiking trails, camping sites and other features.
“Regional Parks’ role is to help preserve the county,” Hart said. “This is going to add amazing multiday backpacking opportunities to our park users right here in our own backyard.”
You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter ?@ahartreports.