The Kenwood Press
News: 12/01/2015

Hood Mountain park expansion should be complete in 2017

Jay Gamel

A handful of people, many of them park volunteers, met at the Kenwood Firehouse to learn what’s in store for the rugged backcountry area just under Hood Mountain’s craggy western face, a signature icon for the north Valley of the Moon. The 247-acre Lawson Ranch sits above the county’s Los Guilicos Center on Pythian Road. Park officials explained the plans for new trails and possible backpack camping at a public meeting held in mid-November.

The new acreage will help connect trails in Sugarloaf State Park and Hood Mountain Regional Park, as well as potential camping or ranger homes at two existing structures, both of which need repairs and/or upgrading, according to project manager Karen Brown. A definite plus for the property are the existing roads and trails from years of light farming. Another bonus was a $100,000 grant from the family that sold the property to the Open Space District.

Much of the western part of the property is inaccessible, steep hillside, but the central part offers opportunities for camping and day use.

“It’s like having a wilderness area close to home,” Park Planning Manager Steve Ehret said. Ehret’s presentation, which included numerous maps, is available here, Lawson Addition Presentation.

Bill Myers and Dave Chalk, of Bill and Dave Hikes, were on hand to offer their support for the project. The two have been leading hikes in Sugarloaf, Hood and Annadel for many years and look forward to this newest addition.

“While I’ve been up there a number of times over the years, it was never with an eye to developing hikes,” Myers said after the meeting. He and Chalk will explore other areas of the property with the idea to help develop more trails over the coming year.

The land consists primarily of oak woodlands, native bunchgrasses, mixed evergreen forests and riparian areas. Some of the area’s plant life is considered sensitive, including serpentine Sargent cypress and chaparral and the grassy areas. Napa False Indigo, Mt. St. Helena Morning Glory, and Sonoma Ceanothus, are among many native species.

The land offers prominent ridgelines with scenic vistas, and sits on the county’s watershed divide: Hood Creek flows to the Pacific via Santa Rosa Creek; Azalea Creek drains into San Pablo Bay through the Sonoma Creek watershed.

The county’s Open Space District bought the property from the Lawson family in 2005 with the idea of giving to either state or local park agencies. It was transferred to Sonoma County Regional Parks in 2014. The current project schedule shows the new addition being opened to the general public by summer of 2017.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of work to be done to prepare the old homesteads for public use, including removing old fencing and cleaning up several dumpsites.

While the land carries several restrictions concerning its use, potential uses for the new acreage include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, picnicking, education and interpretation, and environmental camping (by permit only). The original acquisition called for low-intensity outdoor recreation, habitat preservation and using the existing residences for education or recreational uses. The park won’t admit public vehicles or off-road vehicles, hunting isn’t allowed, and the Open Space District must approve signage. There should be ample day use parking available at the county center on Pythian Road.

The county park district will hold another public workshop next spring for comment on detailed plans for the new addition that will be drawn up, using the input gained from the current workshop. There will be further public review next summer, which could lead to approval by the Board of Supervisors in the fall. If construction begins after that, the new parkland will be opened in summer of 2017.