Almost annually the Argus-Courier checks in with Sonoma County Regional Parks to find out the status of Tolay Lake Regional Park. At 3,426 acres set amid rolling hills and wetlands southeast of Petaluma, Tolay is poised to be a gem in the county park system.
But in the dozen years since officials acquired the land for the park, the general public has mostly been locked out due to complicated issues including sensitive environmental concerns, disputes with neighbors and delicate Native American artifacts at the site.
There is reason to believe, however, that 2017 will be the year that the park is open for full public access. Currently the public is only allowed on the property with special permits and during the Tolay Fall Festival in October. Parks officials report that the final environmental report for the park project is nearly complete, and improvements, such as the paving of the park’s access road, will take place through late summer and early fall.
But, while intrepid hikers will certainly enjoy the many miles of unspoiled trails, the park will open with very few amenities aside from a gravel parking lot and some portable restrooms. The fully envisioned master park plan will have to wait until the parks department has a dedicated funding source.
Voters last November narrowly defeated what would have been that funding source — a sales tax dedicated to park projects like Tolay. Officials are already talking about trying again for a sales tax measure on the ballot next year. Until then, many of the park improvements will remain on hold.
But even with the full master plan unrealized, the prospect of full public access to this amazing natural resource near Petaluma is exciting after all of these years. We hope that this year’s Tolay Fall Festival will serve as the grand opening for Tolay Lake Regional Park and kick off a new era of unfettered public access.