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Local parks chewed up by Glass Fire

The entrance to Hood Mountain Regional Park, which suffered damage to almost all of its 2,000 acres. Photo courtesy of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park was a beehive of activity on Oct. 8. The all too familiar site of scorched trees and terrain looked like 2017 all over again, just caused by a fire with a different name.

PG&E trucks were omnipresent, working to replace power poles in rugged areas. Bulldozer lines created to fight the wildfire were being rehabilitated and restored as much as possible back to the way they were. California State Parks environmental scientists were spread out over the park assessing trail damage. Exhausted Cal Fire and Sonoma County Fire Department crews were still putting out hotspots, smoldering trees and the like.

The Glass Fire is responsible for burning about 85 percent of the 4,900 acre park, according to Sugarloaf Park Manager John Roney, but the campground wasn’t touched, and neither was the Robert Ferguson Observatory or the Visitors Center.

The only structure destroyed was the Old Red Barn, the only semi-intact remnant of the Hurd family ranch, homesteaders in the early 1900s.

“We were lucky this time,” said Roney of the fire’s impacts. Roney credits the slowness of the burn coming down from the Bald Mountain area with an effective back burn started in the area of the Visitors Center.

While a thorough inventory of trail damage hadn’t been done yet, Roney said, he estimates that about half of the many steps put in on the Vista Trail will have to be redone.

He also said there was some concern about how hot the fire got in Sugarloaf’s 1,400 acre McCormick Addition and the fear of extensive damage in that area.

“That area hasn’t burned in 100 years,” said Roney.

Focus is now shifting to restoring any damaged roads and trails, protecting watersheds from toxic ash and debris, and limiting the potential for landslides when rains come.

As of press time, there was no estimated time when Sugarloaf can reopen.

Right next door, Hood Mountain Regional Park suffered varying degrees of damage to almost all of its 2,000 acres. The Glass Fire charged over the Mayacamas Mountains from the Napa side, and moved across the northern section of the park as well as the southern section, which also burned in the 2017 Nuns Fire.

Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker said a full assessment had yet to be done, but plans are already being developed to remove hazardous trees and debris, and to begin steps for erosion control.

“Our natural landscapes will restore themselves in time, as we have seen at Hood Mountain and other regional parks that have burned in four wildfires over the past three years,” said Whitaker. “Seeds will sprout, wildlife will return. It is the built infrastructure – culverts, fences, signs – that will need repair.”

Whitaker said the newly opened Lawson Trail was left largely intact.

“While tragic, fire is part of the natural process,” said Whitaker. The future he said is developing “climate durable” parks, figuring out ways to limit the impacts of fires in open spaces that are adjacent to urban zones.

“We are adapting and finding opportunities to evolve our stewardship and design practices to support more diverse and resilient landscapes.”

Trione-Annadel State Park was a matter of grave concern as the evening of the fire went on. With the fire crossing Melita Road and then crossing Channel Drive and spotting in areas on each side of the visitor center, the fire burned slowly into Sept. 28. With the aid of a significant reduction in wind speed, fire crews were eventually able to contain the fire and prevent it from marching into other parts of the park towards populated neighborhoods in Santa Rosa.

“It’s scary when you have so many neighborhoods around the park,” said Maria Mowrey, District Superintendent for the California State Parks Bay Area District. She said about five percent of Trione-Annadel’s 5,000 acres was burned. No park structures were burned, though fire came very close to the visitor center.

As of press time, Trione-Annadel was still closed, but with plans to open soon. Mowrey said areas still need to be checked for fallen trees, and work needs to start to rehabilitate fire suppression lines. Mowrey said that State Parks will continue to work with Cal Fire and park neighbors on vegetation removal so future fires don’t burn so hot and fast.

Though Jack London Historic State Park was not really in the crosshairs of the Glass Fire, park staff shifted into gear to protect the park’s valuable resources. Many of the artifacts, such as letters, art, interactive exhibits, and furniture were wrapped up, boxed, and removed from the House of Happy Walls Museum. So was Charmian London’s Steinway piano, which had to be moved from the second floor of the museum.

Charmian London's grand piano shelteredThe piano is being stored at a facility in Oakland, with the other items going to State Park’s Museums Collection Center in Sacramento.

All artifacts will remain there until the end of fire season.

Caption: (Left) Athough Jack London State Park was not under threat, Charmian London’s piano was moved out of the House of Happy Walls Museum as a precaution.

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