Say hello to Trione-Annadel State Park

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A few weeks before his death in 2015, a blind Henry Trione confided to his wife as she read the newspaper aloud to him that if his name were to grace anything he ever built, he would prefer it to be Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa.

The businessman’s dying wish was granted Friday by people whom he never met: Six members of the California State Park and Recreation Commission who voted unanimously to change the park’s name to Trione-Annadel State Park.

“It meant so much to Henry,” Eileen Trione said after the vote, her eyes welling with tears.

The rare move to rename a California state park speaks to Trione’s influence, well beyond his efforts establishing Annadel as a state park in 1971. The action also means Trione will be remembered by generations of visitors to the 5,000-acre park where new signs will reflect the change.

“If Henry Trione had not lived, Annadel would be a subdivision,” state Sen. Mike McGuire told commissioners Friday.

The decision capped a two-hour public hearing at the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa that felt remarkably like a memorial service for Trione, with speaker after speaker sharing stories of his humor and largess, as well as his humble nature.

Trione secured an option on the property that became Annadel State Park by putting up more than $1 million of his own money as part of the deal. But he shied away from public recognition for that act of land preservation.

Only in the days prior to his death at the age of 94 did Trione share that he wouldn’t mind having his name grace Annadel. At the time, he was fielding an offer from a Santa Rosa institution offering to name a building after him, according to his wife.

Made aware of Trione’s wish, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, contacted officials seeking support for the name change, leading ultimately to Friday’s decisive hearing at the Flamingo, where Trione often shared drinks with friends.

A number of elected officials or their representatives attended the hearing, along with several members of Trione’s family. The united front appeared crucial to the outcome.

“I haven’t seen anything so unanimously supported since my drill sergeant in the military,” said Commissioner Tommy Randle, who is from the Los Angeles area community of San Dimas.

Going into the hearing, many observers predicted commissioners were going to vote down the name change, given their own policies discouraging such action and the rare instances in which similar requests have been granted. The commission, which establishes general plans for state parks and has exclusive authority over park names, has granted only two such requests in the past 13 years.

But Diane Wittenberg, the commission’s chairwoman, told the packed crowd that they had succeeded in changing “hearts and minds” on the board. Of the nearly 30 people who addressed the commission, none expressed opposition to the name change.

“I think right now Henry is smiling,” Vic Trione said of his father, following the decision.

The family has agreed to pick up all of the costs associated with changing the park’s name, including for new signs and maps. That will amount to about $20,000, according to McGuire.

State parks also will feature Henry Trione’s life in interpretative programs for visitors to the park, which draws an estimated 174,000 visitors annually by conservative estimates.

The site of what became Annadel was being eyed for residential development when Trione and hunting buddy Joe Long of Long’s Drugs put together a $5 million package that led ultimately to the site’s protection as a park. Trione built his home on the hillside adjacent to Annadel. In 2012, he pitched in another $100,000 to keep the park running under county administration at a time when Annadel and dozens of other parks statewide were threatened with closure because of a budget crisis.

Trione’s many other philanthropic endeavors included preservation of what is now the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and the founding of Empire College.

“There are 1,600 square miles in this county. Henry Trione touched every one of them,” Herb Williams, a veteran political consultant, told commissioners. “If you want to say someone is the portrait of a community, Henry Trione was, and always will be - as much as Luther Burbank or anyone else.”

Trione also was lauded for his efforts on behalf of state parks beyond county borders. He was a founding member of the State Parks Foundation, which has contributed nearly $250 million to the parks system.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the city of Santa Rosa formally endorsed the name change. The state Senate and Assembly also, in a rare act of bipartisanship, unanimously supported McGuire’s resolution.

“It’s refreshing to be among elected officials who are all agreeing on something,” former Santa Rosa Mayor Janet Condron told commissioners.

Prior to the vote, several commissioners lamented that current guidelines for considering name change requests aren’t as clear as they would like them to be.

Commission policy states that name changes are to be “strongly discouraged.” Other park guidelines state that a person must be deceased for at least five years before consideration is given to naming a site for that person. That provision applies to the naming of new parks or “nonhistoric” sites.

Los Angeles commissioner Elva Yanez said the lack of clarity “puts a level of pressure on us.”

Such decisions appear to come down mainly to a subjective set of criteria, including whether the person to be honored has done enough to earn the distinction.

Commissioner Ernest Chung of Kentfield noted that there are numerous individuals statewide who are probably deserving of such credit.

“To honor each of them by naming a state park would be an impossible task,” he said.

But commissioners in the end felt Trione had met the standard.

“There is no doubt this state park would not exist or be thriving without Henry Trione’s dedication,” Commissioner Yanez said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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