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A pristine, quarter-mile stretch of upper Santa Rosa Creek will be permanently protected as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve after the Sonoma Land Trust’s recent purchase of a 40-acre parcel on the park boundary.

The new property, located near the Los Alamos Road entrance at the northern end of the park, contains the last stand of redwoods in headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek and a cool shaded creek canyon ideal for rare steelhead trout, one of which was spotted in its waters just last week, land trust representatives said.

The newly acquired property is relatively small — particularly compared to the 1,750-acre wilderness park it adjoins — but it has important value as a buffer between the park and a growing number of estate homes being built in the area, along Los Alamos Road, the nonprofit group said.

It also extends an established wildlife corridor through the hills above Highway 12 and the Oakmont/Kenwood areas. That corridor has become a focal point of local conservation efforts in recent years, as land managers seek to create room for mountain lions, deer, bear and a host of other critters to roam across Sonoma and neighboring counties.

“This property’s been undeveloped and completely wild, essentially, since the ’40s, but there was a concern that we had that there was a lot more development around the park,” said John McCaull, the land trust’s Sonoma Valley acquisitions manager.

Unlike most of Hood Mountain Regional Park, the new parcel escaped the flames that burned through Sonoma County last fall. The property is to be donated later this year to Sonoma County Regional Parks but will not be developed for public access, primarily because the land, high up in the Mayacamas Mountains, is too steep, parks Planning Manager Steve Ehret said.

Rugged banks adorned with moss-covered rocks and arching trees lead up from the creek on both sides.

“This is just nice upland, wonderful habitat, buffer redwoods,” Ehret said.

It is visible, however, just beyond the existing park boundary from the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, a mellow, half-mile path just below creek’s headwaters and the Los Alamos Road park gate.

“The trail right now terminates at the property line,” McCaull said, “so at least people can appreciate it.”

McCaull said county parks has had its eye on the property “for a long time” because of its wild state, with big mature trees — including second-growth, 75-year-old redwoods — deep pools, downed logs and sandbars, all combining for perfect steelhead spawning habitat.

McCaull said he was stunned when he spotted an 18-inch adult steelhead during a visit to the creek last week, evidence of an arduous journey 5 miles upstream from the ocean to the Russian River and then to Santa Rosa Creek at the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and finally up the slope of Hood Mountain.

“This is the first time in over a decade that a steelhead has been documented in the upper reaches of Santa Rosa Creek, and it gives our protection of this property even more importance,” McCaull said.

Acquired from a longtime area ranching family in the area that wanted to see the property remain in its undeveloped state, the property was purchased for $90,000, funded through grants from Wine Country Weekend, the San Francisco Foundation and major donors, the land trust said.

It is one of at least two deals in the works to add acreage to Hood Mountain, park and land trust officials said. They also pointed to a 2016 Sonoma Land Trust donation of 162 acres of formerly private land that’s now part of the park, extending the joint boundary of the county park and neighboring Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

“We are always looking for opportunities to protect more of Santa Rosa Creek and to connect Hood Mountain Regional Park to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park,” McCaull said. “Putting together an integrated park system can take decades of work. That’s why Sonoma Land Trust is in the business of ‘forever.’”

Each piece of the puzzle contributes to efforts to preserve a vast wildlife corridor that spans from southern Marin County through the Sonoma Valley and up into the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and the Mendocino National Forest.

“This property is wild and undisturbed,” said Tony Nelson, Sonoma Valley stewardship manager for the Sonoma Land Trust, “and we hope it will remain that way.”

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

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