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Petaluma’s ’neighborhood parks’

“Nature surrounds us, from parks and backyards to streets and alleyways,” the acclaimed science broadcaster David Suzuki once said. “Next time you go out for a walk, tread gently and remember that we are both inhabitants and stewards of nature in our neighborhoods.”

Nature, as Suzuki suggests, in many neighborhoods is found as nearby as out backyards and local parks. In fact, the very phrase “neighborhood park” is filled with the instantaneous images of nature in capsule form: trees, grass, birds, hedges, trails, streams and views of the sky, the earth and, in a park, each other. Neighbors are as much a part of a neighborhood park“ as is the park itself.

And that’s precisely the point.

As we near the end of this ongoing series exploring all the parks of Petaluma, we’ve played with various definitions, from “pocket parks” (defined in our series as parks smaller than a single acre) to “dog parks” (defined as places where dogs are allowed to run off-leash, for at least certain hours of every day). In our final cluster of articles in the next few weeks, we will visit local “playground parks” and “sports parks.” All of the above, of course (including many already named and explores in past pieces of this series) could definitely be called “neighborhood parks,” as many of them are situated smack in the middle of specific neighborhoods, and were carefully designed for the use of nearby residents, and are seldom known about by anyone outside the immediate area. Some of the places that we have so far not named or visited, however, are among the purest examples of “neighborhood parks,” and deserve a mention and a visit, whether they prove to be no bigger than an acre, or unexpectedly include trails and walks along the river.

What these parks all have in common are that they were created primarily for those who live very, very near, as delightfully uncomplicated places to walk a dog, throw a Frisbee with friends, or send the kids for a bit of non-electronic exercise.

Cherry Valley Park (870 Cherry St.), at the foot of Cherry Valley School, is 1.0-acres of classic neighborhood park. With only a pair of long, wooden tables and a single metal barbecue as a picnic area, and a big, red sign naming the place - a large number of the parks in town actually have no signage announcing their name - Cherry Valley Park is small, but would clearly be missed if it were the location of a house instead of a clear local gathering spot.

Some neighborhood parks, like McNear Landing Park (200 McNear Circle), are clearly created by the designers of specific housing development, and are essentially invisible to all but those who live within immediate walking distance. Just 1.2-acres, it packs a lot into its tiny space, featuring a playground (currently off-limits due to the coronavirus), several benches and tables, a water fountain (also closed), a few standing barbecues, and a heart-gladdening, shaded and benched, gazebo-esque structure perfect for sitting and gazing out at the Petaluma River. Adjoining it is a lovely riverside walking path that runs a ways in either direction.

A short ways away, up the hill that stands overlooking the river, Petaluma Boulevard, Highway 101 (and the Petaluma Veterans’ Memorial Building), Riverview Park and Open Space (192 Mission Dr.) is a 2.4-acre recreation spot designed for residents already treated to some of the best views in town. With a playground and some epic tree-climbing opportunities, the most distinct feature of the park is a steep trail that runs up from the park, a short, rocky inclination that ambles alongside various backyard fences and feels like you’ve stepped into a remote campground pathway somewhere in the forest.

Back down the hill, across the freeway, and few miles away is Miwok Park (1012 St. Francis Dr.), adjacent to Miwok Valley Elementary Charter School. At 2.1 acres, it’s bigger than it looks because of how it seems to share space with the school. There’s a playground, a happy abundance of picnic tables, and one of the best climbing trees in all of Petaluma, thanks to Mother Nature and a conspicuous diagonal slant of the tree trunk allowing kids to more-or-less walk up into its branches.

Another classic neighborhood park is La Tercera Park (1634 Peggy Ln.), 2.5-acres, shaped a bit like the state of Texas, bordered by sidewalks and fences, with numerous little “access points” feeding to and from adjoining streets and cu-de-sacs. It’s got a rudimentary basketball court, a delightfully old-school swing-set and more-modern playground equipment (yes, it’s all currently closed), with towering trees, loads of romping ground and tag-perfect real-estate, and a significant number of picnic tables, some with nearby barbecues.

A short jaunt to the north end of town brings you to a cluster of parks within easy dog-jogging distance of each other. McDowell Meadows Park (939 Wood Sorrel Dr.) is 1.1-acres, with a tiny playground, lots of green lawn on which to throw, chase and roll in the grass, and more of those aforementioned “access points” bringing even more neighbors to the park more easily. At 1611 Yarberry Dr. is Meadow View Park, more of a meadow itself than a view of a meadow, but one of the larger of Petaluma’s “little” neighborhood parks at 2.9-acres. Notable at the moment for the missing sign - just two red-painted posts on which the sign once hung - the park features a horseshoe area, though you’ll have to hunt a bit for it, and some truly gorgeous trees parading at the edge between the park and the street and the lucky houses overlooking it all.

And then, there’s Turnbridge Park (1407 Liverpool Way), though no sign at all lets its nearby neighbors know what to call it. It’s 2.6-acres of big, wide, tree-surrounded nothin’-but-space, pleasantly landscaped and bordered on one side. A pretty little bridge crosses a creek onto an adjoining street, and though its Eastern edge runs along the busy Sonoma Mountain Parkway, you’d never know it for the fence and trees and bushes that give the park a sense of isolation and protection from the outside world. This is a park designed the way neighborhood parks should be. It’s not fancy, but it simply shouts “enjoy me!” And though most of us are making sure to stay indoors whenever possible these days, it’s clear that even on a quiet morning, there are plenty of nearby residents who have answered that call to enjoy their park, waving to the occasional neighbor, even with masks in place, even socially distant, but still well-aware of how lucky they are to have such a place within walking distance of their home.

This is No. 25 of a multi-part series, taking an in-depth look at the parks and park-related facilities in the town of Petaluma. You can reach David Templeton at david.templeton@arguscourier.com.

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