Named after a former mayor of Petaluma and erstwhile county supervisor, Helen Putnam Regional Park is a compact open space maintained by Sonoma County, tucked in the southwestern part of Petaluma. Its broad hillsides and oak woodlands seem light-years away from anything residential or commercial, yet the park itself is only two miles from the city’s downtown. Recently, the park received more than $400,000 for improvements. The upgrades include access and trail improvements; a brand-new 121-step staircase; natural habitat restoration; contract grazing to reduce wildfire risk and control poison oak; and a new trail extension.
The park covers 216 acres and has a six-mile trail system suitable for bicycling, hiking, and horseback riding. Nine trails (including a portion of the Bay Area Ridge Trail) weave through the park’s rolling hills, ranging from 280 to 558 feet in elevation. You can find at least five species of oak trees. Coast live oak and valley oak are the dominants. The grasslands support a high percentage of native perennial bunchgrasses—purple needlegrass and California oat grass—as well as native wildflowers. Bobcat, deer, raptors, and various other wildlife live here.
When you follow the Ridge Trail, you’re likely to see western fence lizards scurry across your path. If you take the Fillaree, Pomo, Savannah, or South Loop trail, all of which wind through dense oak woodlands, listen closely for the airy chirp of a black phoebe or the hyena-like call of a Cooper’s hawk. The Panorama Trail offers the highest overlook point in the park, with impressive views of Petaluma and the Sonoma County countryside.