New year, new parks for Sonoma County

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The new year is bringing several new parks to Sonoma County, and people are eager to explore them.

Tolay Lake Regional Park opened to the public seven days a week in November. No more locked gates and special passes.

When I arrived on New Year’s Day, there were at least 50 cars and several horse trailers in the parking lot. Having hiked there when access was more restricted, I was a bit dismayed. But with the expansion that doubles the park’s size, I did not need to be concerned. The hikers were spread throughout the park, the only concentration being in the parking lot.

Here, folks who were new to the park were trying to figure out the trails, having brought no map. When they saw our 8x11 trail map in hand, they surrounded us to snap photos of it with smartphones. Good plan!

The signage at Tolay is still in the works but should be up soon. My recommendation is to go to the Regional Parks website and download the most recent map which shows the expansion and the trails.

Tolay is an easy park to navigate, but the map is helpful if you are a new visitor. There are really only three trails leading off the parking lot — the Causeway Trail heading to the East Ridge, the Cardoza Road Trail heading to the West Ridge, and Old Lakeville Road trail heading down Tolay Creek. Spurs do lead off these trails to vista points that you don’t want to miss. Many more miles of trail are to come in the future.

Mark West Regional Park is the second new park in 2019. Located north of Santa Rosa on Mark West Springs Road, this park is not open to the public yet. Purchase of the park land was just completed last year, and the area was impacted by the Tubbs wildfire in October 2017. The 1,200 acres were purchased by the Agriculture and Open Space District over a 15-year period, and transferred to Regional Parks in November.

Public previews of this newly acquired park will begin in March. These will provide a unique opportunity to explore this new park. Watch for announcements.

The third open space for hiking that is attracting lots of attention this year is the 5,600-acre Jenner Headlands with 14 miles of trails that climb from 200 feet to more than 2,000 feet. It is managed by the Wildlands Conservancy, and you can download a trail map and information on its website.

The views are spectacular. The trails are challenging. Sea to Sky Trail is 15 miles round trip, so plan water and food for your hike.

This park is adjacent to Highway 1, and north of the Russian River. Directions are on the website.

Our open spaces ensure that Sonoma County is a special place — a place of beauty and healthy living. They provide recreation, and protect habitat, wildlife and watershed. Happy hiking!

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