Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve reopens
By Paul Goguen
New areas of Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve will again be accessible to outdoor enthusiasts looking to hike, bike, ride, or camp in the Mayacamas Mountains. Sonoma County Regional Parks opened the park to wider public access on May 28, following extensive fire clean-up and repairs after the devastating Glass Fire.
I attended a press preview with my mountain bike, eager to explore the trails that I love to ride that have been off-limits for so long, and find out what has been happening up there. I met with Sonoma County Regional Parks deputy director Melanie Parker and park planner Karen Davis Brown, who spoke to the enormity of the rebuilding of bridges, culverts, and retaining walls, and clearing of dangerous dead trees to make the trails safe for firefighters and regular folk.
Parker put the damage to the park in perspective. “This Glass Fire was a very severe event. The tree mortality, as you can see, is nearly one hundred percent.”
Later, when I rode through the park, it was clear this was no exaggeration. Much of the park looks a little crispy, but beautifully on the mend, with new trees sprouting and wildflowers galore. There are still thousands of dead trees, but it’s obvious great efforts have been taken to clear the trails and make them safely passable. Some of the trail markers that burned up haven’t been replaced, so I recommend visitors bring a park map, which is always a good idea anyway because Hood Mountain is a big park with sketchy cell service throughout.
The majority of Hood Mountain’s trailheads and routes have been closed since September 2020, when the Glass Fire burned approximately 80 percent of the 2,000-acre park.
Areas recently opened include the park’s west entrance and parking lot on Los Alamos Road, and Hood Mountain Trail leading to Hood Mountain’s 2,730-foot summit. On the east side of the park, accessed via Pythian Road, the Merganser Pond backcountry campground is open, along with nearby trails such as Panorama Ranch Trail and Orchard Meadow Trail. The lower equestrian parking lot is also now open.
In June 2021, the Pythian Road entrance and upper parking lot reopened to public access, as did the Lawson Trail, and a limited section of Lower Johnson Trail. Those areas remain open.
Over the past 18 months, crews have been working to clear the many hundreds of hazard trees and repair road and other infrastructure damage. Compared to the Nuns Fire in 2017, the Glass Fire resulted in significantly more damaged trees throughout the park. These posed public safety hazards, due in part to the fact that trees first burned in 2017 were far more susceptible to a second wildfire only three years later.
The extent of the fire damage and sheer quantity of the work over the park’s incredibly rugged 2,000 acres — much of the terrain inaccessible to most vehicles — required investment in heavy equipment never before needed by regional parks crews, including a tracked chipper to process downed trees onsite, a 45-ton excavator, as well as training for maintenance crews to operate this specialized equipment. Additionally, the park’s two access roads sustained damage during the blaze, affecting safe travel.
While the majority of the park is safe again for public use, work is ongoing. Experts continue to identify and remove hazard trees; trail alignments continue to be rebuilt; native plants are being replanted; and campground, picnic, and trail signage infrastructure are being replaced. On the west side, the Azalea Creek picnic area and campground and Summit Trail remain closed; on the east side, Upper Johnson Ridge Trail and parts of Lower Johnson Ridge Trail remain closed.
The park asks that as crews continue to work, visitors please respect trail and area closure signs and stick to the identified trail or road to avoid damage to soil, seeds, and new vegetation, as nature continues its recovery. Past and ongoing fire restoration work at Hood Mountain is supported by the Parks for All Measure M sales tax and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In addition, the nonprofit Sonoma County Parks Foundation hosts a fund specifically dedicated to Hood Mountain Regional Park and dedicated to fire recovery, park expansion, and trail construction and repairs. The Bill and Dave Legacy Fund currently has a $10,000 challenge grant, courtesy of nationally renowned artist Richard McDaniel, to raise additional funds for improvements.
Funding from the Parks Foundation and other sources will also go toward the installation of a fire camera at Hood Mountain, as part of the North Bay network of cameras designed to spot wildfires and expand fire start surveillance for the Santa Rosa, Kenwood, and Glen Ellen areas.
Hood Mountain’s Los Alamos parking lot is located at 3000 Los Alamos Rd. in Santa Rosa; its Pythian Road parking lot is at 1450 Pythian Rd. Parking is $7 for the public and free for regional park pass holders.
For more information on Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve and an updated park map, or to donate to the park’s recovery efforts, visit parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Visit/ Hood-Mountain-Regional-Park-and-Preserve.