The Kenwood Press
News: 03/01/2017

Calabazas Preserve OK’d to be part of county parks system

Alec Peters

In the maybe not so distant future, the public will have access to close to 1,300 stunning acres that make up the Calabazas Creek Open Space Preserve in the Mayacamas above Glen Ellen.

At its Feb. 21 meeting the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved beginning the process of transferring the property from the county’s Open Space District to Sonoma County Regional Parks. The Open Space District bought the property, formerly part of the Beltane Ranch, in 2004.

At the time of the acquisition, it was expected that Calabazas would become part of the State of California Park system. But due to state financial issues, the transfer never occurred.

Since 2004, the Open Space District has been the steward of the land, monitoring the property on a regular basis with the help of volunteers. Besides the volunteers and some District-sponsored educational outings, no other public access is currently allowed.

In 2009, the District received a grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy in part to conduct a natural resources assessment, which was recently completed. As the District was getting done with this study, Sonoma County Regional Parks officials expressed interest in Calabazas for developing and managing the preserve as a new regional park.

At the Feb. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, Kim Batchelder, a natural resource planner with the Open Space District, described the acreage as “spectacular,” and an important habitat for plants and wildlife.

The property protects over 80 percent of the Calabazas Creek watershed, which is habitat for steelhead trout, listed as federally endangered. The watershed is also a principal tributary flowing into Sonoma Creek.

The area also provides habitat for the Northern Spotted Owl, also federally endangered.

Calabazas Preserve is home to over 400 plant species, and contains chapparal, oak woodlands, and redwood and Douglas fir groves.

“It has the potential to be an amazing jewel in the Sonoma County Regional Park system,” said Batchelder.

Batchelder said the land has historical importance as well, as the area represents a convergence of three local Native American tribes, the Southern Pomo, Coastal Miwok, and Southern Wappo.

Compatible recreational activities will be developed by Regional Parks, including trails and potential camping locations, but will take some time to complete after the official property transfer.

Current access to the preserve is from Nuns Canyon Road, which currently is not in great shape.

“The conditions are appalling and getting worse,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin. “It’s not ready for public transportation at the moment.”

The head of Regional Parks, Caryl Hart, said opening up Calabazas to the public presents some challenges.

“It’s unclear to me where people are going to park,” said Hart. “There’s no clear answer as to how public access is going to work.”

Hart said the transfer of the property should take place in county fiscal year 2017-18.