Subscribe

Tolay Fall Festival offers respite, traditions and plenty of open space

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Subscribe

Plan your visit

Tolay Lake Regional Park is co-managed by Sonoma County and the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, who will be giving demonstrations including basket-weaving on the Fall Festival’s final day, Sunday, Oct. 20.

Admission is $5 adults, $3 for kids 12 and younger. Parking is $7. Regional Parks members get free, one-time admission for two adults and two children and free parking with a parks pass.

For more information, click here.

After a week of high winds and power shut-offs, families converged on the 14th annual Tolay Fall Festival Saturday at Tolay Lake Regional Park near Petaluma to relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

“I came to cope with fall and to celebrate it and be a part of the community,” said Amy Jollymore of Petaluma, who brought her 10-year-old son, Gabriel, with a friend. “With all of this wind, it’s been a turbulent time.”

The four-day festival, held this weekend and next, offers a wide range of old-fashioned, Halloween activities, from a hayride, pumpkin patch and straw maze to hands-on farm crafts like candle-making and wool felting. There is also a “Nighttime Creatures Barn” featuring live birds of prey, snakes, taxidermied wildlife and a “creepy crawly room” featuring tarantulas, scorpions and jellyfish.

“I like that there’s no technology here,” said Heather Armstead of Petaluma, who brought her 9-year-old son, Nicholas. “The kids are getting their hands into everything. They’re felting and spinning wool and having fun. They’re outside, which is wonderful. And there’s not a battery or a cord attached to anything.”

Saturday’s festival was orchestrated by 40 volunteers, who helped guide visitors through dozens of stations ranging from face painting and scarecrow- making to old-fashioned lawn games like sack racing and pumpkin seed spitting.

“It’s a fantastic venue for families to reconnect and celebrate the harvest in a beautiful, natural setting,” said Sandi Funke, park program manager at Sonoma County Regional Parks. “We like to keep it very natural, with a hay maze and corn pit that even big kids like.”

Jes Williams of Boyes Hot Springs, who was holding her 9-week-old daughter, Noa, in the shaded picnic area, brought her two, active sons — Hudson, 4, and Bodhi, 3 — so they could run around and burn off energy.

“My boys are really excited for the Creepy Crawlers and the candles,” she said. “They picked out their pumpkins first, and we put them in the car, then grabbed our picnic lunch.”

For adults like Maya- Fuller Rowell of Sebastopol, who brought her 7-year-old-daughter, Lily, the high point of the festival was the setting itself, best appreciated during a tractor-powered hayride to the pumpkin patch located in the middle of the expansive valley.

“It’s beautiful,” Rowell said. “You can rest and look out at the scenery.”

The site is culturally significant to the Coast Miwok, Pomo and other Californian tribes. A seasonal settlement in the area dates back at least 4,000 years. Many prehistoric charmstones and arrowheads have been discovered in the lake bed. Visitors who find artifacts today are asked to leave them in place.

“The Indians would throw their healing rocks into the lake,” said volunteer Greg Hagen of Santa Rosa, who welcomed guests at the gate. “They came here to get healing, and I like to think about it as the mecca.”

Tolay Lake Regional Park is certainly a mecca for open space lovers. After years under a special, permitted-access program, it debuted for the general public in October 2018 following a 13-year wait. It is the largest park in the county system, comprising 3,400 acres of open space and trails ideal for bird watching.

Plan your visit

Tolay Lake Regional Park is co-managed by Sonoma County and the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, who will be giving demonstrations including basket-weaving on the Fall Festival’s final day, Sunday, Oct. 20.

Admission is $5 adults, $3 for kids 12 and younger. Parking is $7. Regional Parks members get free, one-time admission for two adults and two children and free parking with a parks pass.

For more information, click here.

The festival keeps alive the spirit of the Old Cardoza Pumpkin Patch, a destination for many years on the same property. Though it is located just 10 minutes from Petaluma, Tolay park is tucked away behind two ridges of the southern Sonoma Mountains, offering a slice of paradise rarely seen by even longtime county residents.

When Sonoma County purchased the ranch from the Cardoza family in 2005, they continued the tradition of the harvest festival, tweaking it slightly to incorporate nature, history and cultural lessons.

“We put our own spin on it,” said Christina McGuirk, program supervisor for Sonoma County Regional Parks. “The Nighttime Creatures Barn was a haunted house. We wanted to have the animals give the kids and public an opportunity to connect with nature.”

The park will welcome local school children during a total of four weekdays this year. More than 900 schoolchildren arrived by bus on Friday, but Thursday’s field trips were canceled because of the power outages across the county. This week, 20 school buses per day will drop children off Wednesday through Friday.

“I would say today’s attendance is a little slow, after the power being out,” said Park Ranger Josh Crosbie. “But it should definitely pick up.”

The high temperature Saturday topped out at 82 degrees with a light breeze, but there was plenty of water and shade to keep everyone cool. Today and next weekend, temperatures are expected to fall into the mid-70s.

“This year, the weather is perfect. We really hit the jackpot,” Funke said. “Last year, it was a lot hotter.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

Show Comment

Our Network

Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Emerald Report
Spirited Magazine