Saving Sonoma Mountain

October 22, 2009

At 2,463 feet, Sonoma Mountain is not even close to our region’s tallest peak. But its broad slopes hold a remarkable diversity of iconic Bay Area landscapes, from redwood groves to oak woodlands to ranchlands and vineyards. And at the summit, the views sweep from ocean to valley.

Public access to those views keeps getting better and better. Last month, local nonprofit LandPaths and other parties resolved an eight year-old legal stalemate over a trail right-of-way on the McCrea property, located on the southeast side of the mountain. The settlement allows for limited building on about 11 acres on the lower elevations of the ranch, while the middle expanse of 200 acres will remain under a conservation easement that prohibits any development. The ridgetop’s 22 acres will be conveyed to the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which plans to construct a multi-use trail connecting to the Bay Area Ridge Trail and ultimately to Jack London State Park. The District’s Assistant General Manager, Maria Cipriani, says the district has a “strong desire” to see the trail open to the public “as soon as possible,” possibly within the next year or so.

But that’s not all that’s happening on the mountain. In the spring the district hopes to initiate construction on 4.25 miles of trail on the North Slope. The new trail would be added to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, connecting Jack London State Park with several other protected properties. District officials are also working on matching grants with the Sonoma County Regional Parks Department to link the Sonoma State University campus to Crane Creek Regional Park, located on the lower slopes of the western side of Sonoma Mountain. “Ultimately we hope to link Crane Creek Regional Park over the North Slope to Jack London and beyond,” says Cipriani. But the plans are not immune to the state budget crisis. A grant of $575,000 from the California Coastal Conservancy is on hold because of a bond freeze, although the district is proceeding with the North Slope Trail for now.

Big news came last year, in December 2008, when the Sonoma Land Trust, in partnership with the open space district, was able to secure Sonoma Mountain Ranch, a 283-acre property that includes the summit of the mountain. The purchase created 5,500 contiguous acres of publicly protected land on Sonoma Mountain. Luckily, partial funding of $1.5 million from the California Coastal Conservancy was received before the bond freeze.

LandPaths has been working with both California Conservation Corps crews and volunteers on a portion of Ridge Trail on top of Sonoma Mountain to make the peak accessible. “Connectivity on the mountain–both for passive public use and long-term habitat corridors–is of vital interest to LandPaths,” says Executive Director Craig Anderson. “As the general contractor on the portion of new Bay Area Ridge Trail on top of Sonoma Mountain, LandPaths is invested in this project and believes that it will very soon provide some of the most breathtaking vistas in the entire Bay Area.”

In the end, as Cipriani explains, the plans for the mountain depend on the shared ambitions of the people involved. “What really makes all this exciting stuff possible is the partnerships the organizations of Sonoma Mountain have maintained.” Organizations like the California Coastal Conservancy, the Bay Area Ridge Trail, LandPaths, state and regional parks, the Sonoma Land Trust, and land owners themselves are making it possible for the public to enjoy this beautiful mountain.

Looks like 2,463 feet can go a long way.

About the Author

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye is a Bay Nature intern.