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The north entrance and parking lot for Hood Mountain Regional Park and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is at 3000 Los Alamos Road in Santa Rosa, located about four miles up a narrow winding road from Highway 12/Sonoma Highway.

The entrance is near the headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek, and visitors must ford the creek to access Sugarloaf Ridge State Park’s McCormick Addition, which can be challenging after heavy rain.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park will reopen in its entirety Feb. 1, though many trails will remain closed, including Natkemper-Goodspeed, Vista, Headwaters, Red Mountain, Hillside and Brushy Peaks. Bald Mountain, High Ridge, Meadow, Pony Gate and Grape Vine trails will be opened. Park managers hope to have completed a bridge repair necessary to reach the popular waterfall on Sonoma Creek via Canyon Trail, as well.

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

The fire-scarred hillsides that make up Hood Mountain Regional Park and adjoining Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood still face years of recovery from last year’s inferno, as anyone passing through the Sonoma Valley can see.

But park managers are preparing to welcome visitors back a week from now to sections of both public spaces, offering glimpses of nature’s renewal and motivation to explore the parks’ less visited northern reaches.

The Jan. 20 reopening of the Los Alamos Road gate, which provides access from Sonoma Highway both to Hood Mountain and to Sugarloaf Ridge’s McCormick Addition, marks the first opportunity for the public to begin reclaiming recreational lands closed to users since flames tore through the Mayacamas Mountains three months ago.

Though not quite half of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve will be opening Jan. 20, as well as about a quarter of Sugarloaf Ridge, “we really are excited,” said Melanie Parker, deputy director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Some of the most severely burned landscape in Sonoma County cuts through the adjoining ridgeline parks, on south-facing slopes that will likely be among the slowest to regain their cover.

Park managers are nonetheless eager to bring hikers and picnickers back to areas on the north side of the ridgeline that escaped the ravages of wildfire in October.

“You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, just outside Santa Rosa,” said Parker. “You’re surrounded on all sides by undeveloped hillsides, with this beautiful creek going through. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The entirety of Sugarloaf Ridge park, including the Adobe Canyon Road entry, will reopen Feb. 1, even though many of the trails will remain closed for repairs, Park Manager John Roney said.

Half of the park’s campsites are to reopen for Presidents Day weekend a few weeks later, with gradual openings of trails and amenities continuing after that, he said.

“It’s still beautiful, even with all the brown, burned black hills, especially in the area where it slopes down and the little green shoots are coming out,” said Marty Haidet, who was among about a dozen park volunteers who participated in trail restoration work at Sugarloaf Ridge earlier this week. “There’s meadows out there that are super green.”

October’s firestorm charred 137 square miles of Sonoma County landscape, including substantial portions of Shiloh Ranch, Sonoma Valley and Hood Mountain regional parks, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks and Schopflin Fields, run by county parks.

County parks has since reopened Sonoma Valley, Shiloh Ranch and Crane Valley Regional Park, which also suffered fire damage.

A portion of Trione-Annadel State Park that escaped the flames is now open, as well. County park personnel have capitalized on the situation to provide special hikes and programming focused on fire ecology and nature’s ability to rebound in the wake of wildfire. Rangers have been made available to answer questions from the public at reopened sites.

But state park personnel weren’t even allowed into Sugarloaf Ridge until nearly three months after the fire went through, because of safety concerns.

After that, volunteers came in to help repair wooden bridges and walkways, trails, retaining walls and other infrastructure destroyed or damaged by the inferno, Roney said.

There were hazard trees and bulldozer lines that obliterated trails, some of which could be closed long-term, though fire roads fared well, he said.

But even with the park’s scheduled reopening, state park officials plan to close Sugarloaf in the event of predicted heavy rains due to ongoing concerns about landslide and debris flows in severely burned areas, he said.

Retired Montgomery High School teacher Loren Heyer, another Sugarloaf volunteer, said he was stunned to see charred markings on trees 100 feet off the ground.

There is no foreseeable reopening date for the heavily trafficked southern portion of Hood Mountain Regional Park, reached by Pythian Road in an area considered at high risk for flash floods and debris flows during heavy rainfall.

Parker said officials are aware of the public’s desire to access to the area, which features steep, challenging trails and hikes to Gunsight Rock and the Natkemper-Goodspeed Trail connecting to Sugarloaf Ridge.

But the risk of potential post-fire hazards like the debris flows that killed at least 18 people in Santa Barbara County this week outweighs any urgency to let people back in, she said.

“All we need is the right atmospheric river event to pause over Hood Mountain, and we are facing the exact same situation,” Parker said.

In the meantime, the park areas that are safe to reopen allow access to the headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek, meadows and vistas, Parker said.

A hike up the Hood Mountain Trail to the ridgeline and Panorama Ranch Trail offers a glimpse of the burn area and evidence of the extensive firefight, Parker said.

“I think this is going to be an awesome opportunity for people to get to know this part of the park,” Parker said. “It’s really an amazing jewel.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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