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A grant for Putnam Park, but what to improve?


Great news: A generous donor is putting up $50,000 to improve Helen Putnam Regional Park, but only if the rest of us match the donation. After hearing that news, I thought I should take a hike there with a more critical eye to determine what might be needed.

Since Helen Putnam Park is one of the parks in the Sonoma County Regional Parks Trails Challenge, I printed out the map in the guidebook (parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Activities/Trails_Challenge.aspx). My husband decided to join me. I gave him the map. Off we went.

I have a parks membership, so I always park in the Chileno Valley lot. Up we went on the paved Ridge Trail, past the pond where a family was fishing with their young children, careful not to fall in. Note: Needs improved pond banks and access.

At the top of the hill, we ended up taking the wrong trail. Don’t ask me how. But it turned out to be a good choice because we discovered trails that are just not on the map and have no signage. We figured we could not get too lost — it’s a small park. Note: Needs improved trail signage and decommissioning of unauthorized trails.

Some of the trails we hiked were deeply rutted and challenging but nevertheless, we encountered hikers on them, undaunted by the bad terrain. One hiker told us she had done a face plant into the poison oak along the trail and was delighted to hear that funds might be coming to make much needed improvements to the trails. Note: Two more items for the list of planned park enhancements — poison oak eradication and trail improvements.

I know that Regional Parks is considering bringing in goats that will eat the poison oak.

We made a second visit to Putnam Park two weeks later, taking friends from Canada. We hiked some new trails and even did the Trails Challenge trail, but in reverse. Up we went on Savannah Trail. Our friends thought the sign at the entrance to the park about a cougar attack was quite interesting. I need to pay more attention. I mostly look for the signs about ticks.

At the top of the hill, we came across a lovely picnic bench in the shade of oak trees, but also with empty cans of Red Bull strewn around. Of course, we stuffed them in our packs to carry back. But those cans were the only garbage we encountered the whole day. People take very good care of this park.

As we left Savannah Trail at the Panorama Trail junction, arrows pointed in two directions. Left or right? It would be helpful to know which was east and which was west. Note: Add compass points to new signage as appropriate.

We all got a big smile when we came across the bench with the sign, “Here Donna said yes.” We talked with some young hikers coming off the South Loop Trail. They said it was their favorite trail and not very long. We headed in.

Our friends asked what kind of oak trees we were seeing. We also scared up some turkey vultures in the trees. Note: Needs interpretive signage so hikers know the flora and fauna of the park.

Back in the parking lot, our Canadian friend remarked: “This is a beautiful little park to have so close to home.”

I agree, and look forward to the many improvements we can make through the generosity of our local benefactor and us, the local residents. Watch for opportunities to join the effort.

(Carol Eber is the chair of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, and a Petaluma resident.)