s
s
Sections
Search
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
X

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.

Login

X

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

LoginSubscribe

Special coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley.

Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

At this point post-fire, the whispering bells have begun to fade. They’re an understated wildflower, clusters of nodding blooms now a papery ivory. But they are everywhere. Rounding a bend on the Lower Bald Mountain Trail in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, as oak woodland gives way to chaparral, the Sonoma Ecology Center’s Tony Passantino points out bunches of them.

But just wait, he advises.

And sure enough, farther along, an entire slope explodes with whispering bells. They are as dense as the bleaching wild oat grass in the meadow below, as dense as the coyote brush, chamise, and manzanita that burned here. There’s no wind on this late spring morning but if there were, the flowers would be softly chiming. Bend close and sniff: They smell like Sweet Tarts, of all things.

Passantino is delighted. He’s never seen anything like this, and neither has anyone else on Team Sugarloaf, the partnership that manages the state park. You can find whispering bells in an ordinary season, but this kind of profusion hasn’t been seen in 50 years, since the last time these hills burned. The same kind of rare display is happening down valley at the Bouverie Preserve in Glen Ellen, where the normally elusive redwood lily can be found everywhere, says Jeanne Wirka, director of stewardship for Audubon Canyon Ranch.

And the oat grass? Passantino, Wirka, and Neill Fogarty, supervising ranger at Trione-Annadel State Park have all watched it take off. October 2017’s wildfires supercharged the soils with “a megadose of nutrients,” Wirka explains, spawning a bumper crop that stands eight feet high in places. As the grasses cure and fire season progresses the potential fuel load is a little worrisome, but it’s also important to observe and document the abundance.

Most of us, fire gods willing, will only have one opportunity to witness the rebirth of nature following wildfire. And it’s happening in parks all around us. Here are some places where the effects can be easily observed with a short walk.

Bouverie Preserve

When the Nuns Fire swept through Bouverie, part of a hub of public open spaces and preserves converging in Glen Ellen, it almost immediately presented a lesson in fire ecology. Land managers had done a prescribed burn on a portion of the property, and the difference in how the fire behaved on that parcel presented an instant opportunity to study the effect of that fire management protocol in the field. The rest of the preserve took a hard hit, including loss of much of the infrastructure that supported its educational programs as well as man-made improvements along the trails themselves, like bridges. But by the time fall rolls around, Wirka said guided hikes for student groups and the public will be offered—and there’ll be more months of change to observe. Contact: 415-868-9244 ext. 306; www.egret.org/visit_bouverie

Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve

Located along the high ground of the Mayacamas above Kenwood, about 60 percent of Hood Mountain’s 1,750 acres were torched by the Nuns Fire. Drier conditions and extreme winds intensified the firestorm in the southern reaches of the park, leaving hillsides of skeletal forest and charred earth in its wake. Recovery will be slower here, but still worth witnessing. To check it out, begin hiking at the Pythian Road entrance, climbing the Lower Johnson Ridge Trail to the Panorama Ranch Trail, then continuing on the Upper Johnson Ridge Trail to the summit. The total round-trip involves significant elevation change, so wear good shoes and carry plenty of water. The Sugar-Hood Shuttle is another option, accommodating a point-to-point hike from Hood Mountain to Sugarloaf; details are on the Sugarloaf website. Contact: 707-539-8092; www.parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/Hood-Mountain-Regional-Park-and-Preserve/

Special coverage

This story is part of a monthly series in 2018 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley.

Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

Pepperwood Preserve

Perched in the western Mayacamas between Santa Rosa and Calistoga, Pepperwood was directly in the line of the Tubbs Fire. More than 80 percent of the preserve’s 3,200 acres of wildland burned, along with some structures. Known for the diversity of its habitat — prior to the fire more than 750 native plant varieties and 150 species of wildlife could be found in its woodlands and meadows — the preserve’s land managers are now monitoring and documenting recovery of, among other things, the composition and succession of vegetation as the landscape heals, and the wildlife that makes use of those different plants. The preserve is open to the public for volunteer workdays, classes, and public walks, and the staff has incorporated fire ecology into its curriculum.

Contact: 707-591-9310; www.pepperwoodpreserve.org

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Team Sugarloaf has created a Fire Recovery Walk that traverses from an unburned meadow through a succession of torched ecosystems including grassland, oak woodland, and chaparral. The 2-mile loop leads hikers past scorched-earth shadows of trees fallen before fire moved through, where downed wood burned so hot it killed the seed bank in the understory and altered soil chemistry. Nature will take its course here, Passantino says, as it also will in the canopies of the surviving oaks, where a powdery mildew has coated the leaves that budded soon after the blaze. Link the Lower Bald Mountain Trail with the paved Bald Mountain Trail and then the Stern Trail to complete the recovery loop. Stretch it out by heading right and uphill on Bald Mountain Trail and returning via the Vista and Meadow Trails for a 4-mile option. Contact: 707-833-5712; www.sugarloafpark.org or www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=481

Trione-Annadel State Park

Ranger Fogarty recommends a pair of walks through fire-affected areas in the 5,500-acre park. The first is a 5.5 to 6-mile round-trip from the Channel Drive trailhead, traveling up the Warren Richardson Trail (aka the Richardson fire road) to Lake Ilsanjo, and then making a clockwise loop around the lake. The route reaches into regions that “burned hot,” Fogarty says, where fire torched stands of madrone and Douglas fir. The second option makes a long loop linking the Lawndale and Schultz Trails outside of Kenwood and passes the Ledson Marsh, which got a “haircut” during the fire — where the reeds burned off, opening the water to view. Contact: 707-539-3911; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=480

Tracy Salcedo is a writer living in Glen Ellen.

Show Comment