Helen Putnam park expansion underway

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Helen Putnam Regional Park is getting a makeover with trail work and expansion at both ends that will extend the popular county park on the southern edge of Petaluma.

Work began last month to build a trail link to a new parking lot planned for Windsor Drive at the park’s west side. Separately, developers have submitted plans to the city for a 28-home housing project at the east end of Helen Putnam, which includes a 44-acre extension of the park.

Trail crews are continuing this month on the western expansion, building a trail from the junction of Pomo and Filaree trails down a slope to Windsor Drive. The new trail will take the easiest route up the hill, according to the Regional Parks website.

“This new park access provides dedicated parking close to the community and a new trail which is designed to roll and flow up the hill, minimizing steep climbs so that it can be enjoyed by trail users of all abilities,” the site says.

Trail work is expected to last until the middle of July and will include temporary closures of Pomo Trail. The 29-space parking lot at the trailhead on Windsor Drive should start this fall. It will include a restroom, signs and a map.

The new parking lot will provide park goers with an access point closer to the city than the Chileno Vally Road parking lot. It will also provide an alternative to an access point on Oxford Court, which only has on-street parking.

“I think the expectation is this is going to take some pressure off the Oxford parking. The hope is it will take away some cars,” said Carol Eber, the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation Petaluma representative. “It’s great to have another access point and more mileage for the trail network. I’m really excited.”

Meanwhile, Davidon Homes and the Kelly Creek Protection Project last month submitted a joint proposal to the city for a housing and park plan that would end a long running dispute between the developer and environmentalists. The compromise reached last year, will allow for a smaller housing project — 28 homes down from the 93 first proposed.

The Kelly Creek Protection Project raised $4.1 million to purchase the remaining 44 acres for parkland.

“It’s a big step forward, the residential and park combined,” said Greg Colvin, the Kelly Creek project director. “In 15 years, nothing happens. Then you turn around and it’s all happening.”

The city is currently preparing the environmental report for the joint housing-park project, which should be ready for comments by this fall. Once the city approves the project, the environmental group will complete the purchase and deed the land to Sonoma County Regional Parks, Colvin said.

The Sonoma County Open Space District approved a $1 million grant to help improve the expanded acreage, with an information center in a restored barn, an outdoor seating area featuring a native butterfly garden, a footbridge and a new parking lot on D Street and restrooms.

Trails will run along Kelly Creek, with habitat preserved for the threatened California red legged frog. A connector trail at the upper end of Kelly Creek will join the rest of Putnam Park.

That work, in conjunction with the housing project, is still about two years away, Colvin said. Davidon’s housing project could break ground next fall, if all of the permits are approved within the next year, according to Steve Abbs, vice president at Davidon Homes.

“The opportunity for expansion of the park is truly a win-win for the community,” Abbs said. “It’s going to be a great amenity for the city.”

Existing trails in the park are also getting some attention, thanks to $200,000 in grant funding, according to Karen Davis-Brown, a regional parks planner. The Filaree and Pomo trails were rebuilt last year, and work is scheduled to start next week on the trail to a popular fish pond.

A community meeting will likely be held later this month to update neighbors on the Windsor parking lot project, Davis-Brown said.

“It’s such a well use, well loved park,” she said. “Funds for renovation are huge.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)

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