Petaluma hot spot
Between noon and 1 p.m. on a warm, cloudless summer Saturday is perhaps not the best time to hike the trail uphill through southwest Petaluma’s semi-secret Country Club Open Space. Unless, of course, you are a glutton for that particular kind of sweet and sticky, bright and blistering, solar-powered punishment that is walking in the wide-open on a moderate-to-steep path with sweeping views and intermittent shade under a fiercely hot, wholly disinterested and unconcerned sun.
But did we mention the views?
Like the small neighborhood parks described last week, Country Club Open Space – with its lower trailhead located at 1058 McNear Ave.– is known to almost no one in Petaluma who does not live close enough to the 28.6-acre, half-mile-long strip of space to walk to it. Named for the nearby Petaluma Country Club, the area is a mix of heavily treed oak and eucalyptus and open grassy hills, starting out on McNear - where a single bench identifies the place as a “park” - then rises sharply, with occasional respites of level, catch-your-breath flatness, ultimately ending in a small cul-de-sac at the farthest edge of Mt. Rose Lane.
Notable sights along the way - in addition to the soaring expanse of photographable gorgeousness taking in the freeway, the river, the marsh, great slabs of Petaluma and the Sonoma Mountains beyond - include the nature-made (a tiny dry creek, rich habitat for birds and animals, a delightfully majestic tree with one mighty branch bowing down as if to offer a place to sit) and the human-made (the meandering back-fences of adjoining homes along the undulating terrain, evidence of old-fashioned child’s-play in the form of a simple tree-fort, a hanging rope swing and a make-shift fort built of branches and park, and a final, concluding stairway of wood that transitions hikers from the sometimes dusty trail to the solid road waiting above).
The stairs, it so happens, were created in 2007 by then-teenager Matt Brownell, as part of his Eagle Scout citizenship project with Petaluma’s Troop 8. Then a senior at Petaluma High School, Brownell – whose family lived across the street from the lower trailhead – helped organize the widening of the path. He also oversaw and planned the design and installation of the wooden steps, supported by rebar, and attractively placed at the top of the trail. Other scouts assisted in the project, which stands solidly and much-used to this day.
On a recent walk, already described as taking place at high noon on a day when temperatures climbed above 90 degrees, the heat was somewhat mitigated by a cool-ish breeze, and made totally beside-the-point by the ruggedly natural beauty of the area. Tucked in beside some lavishly envy-inducing homes, there’s a stimulating, compare-and-contrast oddness to the area, made additionally memorable by the feeling the whole place gives of being entirely separate from the rest of Petaluma.
Though the short trail is a drop-in-the-bucket, exercise-wise, compared to spots like Helen Putnam Park or Tolay Lake Regional Park, it does create a decent workout if you take the path at a steady clip. Though beware. On the lower parts of the trail, the earth is definitely a bit loose and slippery.
Still, if you watch your footing, and plan to take the one-mile up-and-back trip with your eyes peeled, there are plenty of delights to be found here, from the random discovery of an apparent owl feather, laid out for easy discovery on the path, to a downward-swooping branch crossing the path, inviting tall hikers to play a game of low-tree limbo.
Gorgeous and fun.
Sometimes, one gets the idea that Nature enjoys hanging out and playing with us as much as we enjoy spending quality time with her.
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