The wildfires that ravaged much of Sonoma County in October delayed the opening of Tolay Lake Regional Park, but officials are now aiming for this spring to open the long-planned county park on the outskirts of Petaluma, according to Supervisor David Rabbitt.
“I said I wanted it open last year, but the fires set us back,” he said. “I’m pushing for it as hard as I can.”
The 3,426-acre park, in the works since 2005, has faced multiple hurdles since the county acquired the land from a ranching family. With sensitive wetlands, archaeological sites and vocal neighbors, the county has spent years on the project’s environmental document.
While the public is allowed onto the land on a limited basis — either by obtaining a permit or during the Tolay Fall Festival — full public access is pending approval of the environmental impact report. A hearing on the EIR was scheduled last fall, but the wildfires sapped a lot of county resources. Now, a Sonoma County Planning Commission hearing is set for March 1, according to Bert Whitaker, parks director.
Once the planning commission signs off, the board of supervisors must approve the park’s master plan six weeks later. The park could open a month after that, meaning hikers could enjoy the wild flowers by mid-May, Whitaker said.
“Spring is a great time to get in there,” he said. “It evokes a completely different experience.”
The park’s master plan details a host of improvements, but much of that work is unfunded and won’t be completed when the park opens, Rabbitt said. Initially, nature-lovers will be able to enjoy a limited network of trails. In the future, trail will extend into the southern reaches of the park with wilderness campsites and a bunkhouse for overnight group stays.
“It’s important to get people on the land so they can enjoy it,” Rabbitt said.
Funding for park improvements could come from a statewide parks bond expected to make the June ballot, Whitaker said. He said county parks officials have had discussions about a local tax measure for Sonoma County Regional Parks, but no decisions have been made. A county park tax failed on the 2016 ballot.
Once the park is open, Whitaker said he envisions some sort of grand opening ceremony. In the meantime, Carol Eber, chair of the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation board, pointed out that residents can go online to register for a free permit to use the park on the weekends.
“Take advantage of what is,” she said in an email. “Look forward to what will be.”
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)