Future of North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park under consideration

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In the two years since Sonoma County opened a regional park on the north face of Sonoma Mountain, countless visitors have fallen in love with the site’s trails and phenomenal views.

But some visitors almost assuredly have opinions on what they would change at the 820-acre park to improve the experience.

The time to make those concerns known is now.

County park officials are hosting a public workshop in Santa Rosa on Thursday to begin charting the long-term management of what officially is known as the North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.

Do you want more trails at the park? What about allowing dogs?

Or, how about the prospect of overnight camping on the nearly 2,500-foot summit?

“There’s basically no plans for it yet,” Karen Davis-Brown, a regional parks planner, said of the North Sonoma Mountain park.

Thursday’s workshop, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Bennett Valley Guild Hall on Grange Road, is the first step in developing a master plan for the park, which is about 3 miles up Sonoma Mountain Road from Bennett Valley Road and abuts Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

The park’s unveiling in February 2015, which capped 12 years of property acquisition and planning, gave visitors access to new sections of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, along with jaw-dropping views of northern Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain.

There’s likely to be robust debate now over the long-term management of the site, including over whether to lift a prohibition on dogs on the trails.

Davis-Brown said park officials don’t have a recommendation on that idea, or for any other possible changes at the park.

She said the goal of Thursday’s workshop, and another one to be scheduled sometime this summer, is to hear what the public wants at the site, albeit within the constraints of a conservation easement that restricts uses.

One area of particular focus is the former Sonoma Mountain Ranch property, which, at 282 acres, forms the uppermost reaches of the park. The property, which has 360-degree views of Sonoma Valley and beyond, has not yet been opened to the public.

Possibilities for that section include constructing a trail giving visitors access to the mountain’s peak. Hike-in camping might be another option, Davis-Brown said.

Park visitors currently have the option of hiking the 4.5-mile Ridge Trail, which connects with Jack London’s Hayfields Trail and more than 20 miles of trails skirting the state park.

Mountain bikers are allowed to use the first 2 miles of the Ridge Trail before they have to turn around, due to a deed restriction on a parcel that prevents through access.

But opening up the ranch property on the peak at the North Sonoma park potentially could give riders who access the park from Jack London more room to pedal.

The site of North Sonoma’s main entrance, the former 169-acre Jacobs Ranch, includes a home, several barns and other structures that could be used as a residence for park rangers, a conference center or for other purposes, Davis-Brown said.

The master plan for the park is projected to cost $180,000, with $90,000 of that amount coming from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and the rest from Regional Parks. The work includes review under the California Environmental Quality Act and permitting.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 707-521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

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