California closes Sugarloaf Ridge State Park for first time in park’s 47-year history

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is an anchor for wildland and ecological protection in the Sonoma/Napa area … Simply winding up the park entrance road to Adobe Canyon, most people experience a sense of moving into a different realm, leaving behind the familiarity of urban life and shifting into a more rural and challenging setting.

Source: Final General Plan and Environmental Impact Report, 2004

On the same day that Mono Lake advocates announced goods news for the embattled Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, state park officials locked the gates on Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, a park that straddles the rugged ridges surrounding 2,729-foot Bald Mountain above the world-renowned vineyards of Napa and Sonoma. Sugarloaf Ridge State Park - Map Center

Articles published on December 1, 2011, by Sonoma Valley news outlets, including the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and Sonoma Index-Tribune, reported that Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, one hour away from San Francisco and seven miles east of Santa Rosa, officially closed on November 30, 2011.

Unless a deal can be worked out between local nonprofits and the state, closure of this 5,100-acre wildland park in the “Valley of the Moon” will be permanent.

In an email, State Parks spokesperson Roy Stearns told the Press Democrat: “I think it is fair to say that some parks that close for the season, if on the closure list and no partners are found, will likely remain closed when spring gets here.

California has never done this before: Major gaps in information and communication hinder solutions

Since news emerged in May 2011 about the imminent closure of 70 state parks, many groups with close ties to local parks have experienced great difficulty with getting information from the state on what it takes to operate each park, including costs.

Sorting everything out has taken considerable time, and time ran out for Sugarloaf advocates sooner than anticipated. According to the park’s website, the state was forced to shut the park’s gates due to “staff reductions and budgeting constraints.”

Nonprofits eager to negotiate operating agreements, authorized by a new law passed in October, are “creating new park budgets from scratch,” said Lauren Dixon of the Parks Alliance for Sonoma County when I spoke with her in late September.

Nonprofits teaming up to draft a proposal, raise funds

On November 17, at a meeting of the Bay Area Open Space Council on the state park crisis, Lauren Dixon of the Parks Alliance for Sonoma County briefly described efforts by a group of five organizations to save Sugarloaf. The group, named “Team Sugarloaf” and led by the Sonoma Ecology Center, has been meeting monthly to devise a plan. At the time, a proposal to operate the park was in draft form. Sonoma Creek in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

According to Dixon, the Parks Alliance is committed to helping Sonoma organizations raise funds from the local communities to build capacity to operate parks and create a long term plan for protecting the parks. The Parks Alliance itself is funded by the Sonoma Land Trust and donated office space from Sonoma County Regional Parks.

A wildland park holding the headwaters to salmon spawning habitat

Another challenge to this unprecedented crisis for our state parks is that every park varies in size and facilities and has unique ecological conditions. Over 25 miles of trails traverse through Sugarloaf’s wildlands of madrone, fir and oak forests to a sweeping 360-degree view on top of Bald Mountain. On clear days, you can see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge to the south. The park also features an astronomy observatory, housing several telescopes, and campgrounds.

Creeks emanating from the slopes of the park support steelhead and Chinook salmon spawning and summer rearing habitats. Santa Rosa Creek flows west into the Russian River, and Sonoma Creek flows south into San Pablo Bay.

According to the park’s 2004 Environmental Impact Report:

“Small-scale changes in ecological conditions in the park could degrade water quality downstream … these headwaters provide critical spawning habitat for chinook salmon and steelhead, whose lifecycles take them far beyond the local landscape, returning to their natal streams from across the Pacific.”

February 17, 2012 update:

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park re-opened for public access on the morning of February 16, 2012, after State Parks officials decided to rescind a closure in effect since December. Park officials did not remove the park from the closure list and advise that you check the park website (parks.ca.gov/?page_id=481) for status updates. Read more on SonomaNews.com.

May 26, 2012 update:

Team Sugarloaf is near a final deal with the state and will take-over the park on June 1.

Blog series
This is the 15th article in a series on threats to California State Parks and the search for sustainable funding.