Like most newcomers to Petaluma, I was struck by the mountain dominating the skyline to the northeast, with its checkerboard of grassland and oak woodlands reminiscent of the beloved hills of my youth. I learned it was Sonoma County’s dominant landform and namesake, and of its foundational role in the region’s culture and history.
And then came the question every outdoor-oriented newcomer to Petaluma asks: where can we hike up there?
Sadly, the answer in the early 1980’s was: nowhere. Of the more than 10,000 acres of Sonoma Mountain that can be seen from Petaluma, there was not a single acre of parkland, nor a single public trail.
Petaluma view: Sonoma Mountain and Lafferty Ranch
Taken at the Petaluma River’s Turning Basin near downtown by Scott Hess. Lafferty Ranch, owned by the City of Petaluma, includes the large wooded canyon in the center of the frame.
Marin to Petaluma
I was fortunate to grow up in a southern Marin adjacent to natural open space. Many of my most formative experiences took place in those hills, in the company of parents, friends, and my own thoughts and observations. I credit that immediacy of nature with much of what I have become since, including a lifelong environmentalist.
In the early 1980s my wife and I had moved to Petaluma, because it was midway between my work in San Rafael and hers in Santa Rosa, and because it seemed a good place to raise a family. But, as we discovered, the west side of the mountain itself was wholly privately owned, with no public access.
Open Space Hope
Much has changed since the 1980s. The Sonoma County Ag Preservation & Open Space District, twice funded by voters and aided by the Sonoma Land Trust, LandPaths, and Sonoma Mountain Preservation, have permanently protected vast swaths of agricultural and open space, and opened many thousands of acres of scenic natural lands to responsible public enjoyment throughout the county.
Throughout the county, that is, except on the Petaluma side of Sonoma Mountain. What was true in the 1980s remains true today: not a single trail nor a single public acre can be found on the southeast slope overlooking Petaluma.
Yet a ray of hope began to emerge in the early 1990s. Petaluma began to implement its longstanding plan to open Lafferty Ranch, a scenic, 270-acre, city-owned property comprising the headwaters of historic Adobe Creek and reaching to the Sonoma Mountain ridgeline of Sonoma Mountain, as a public park.
That plan ran into resistance from some neighboring property owners, and has developed into quite an ongoing saga. You can learn about it on other SMP blogs, and in detail at www.laffertyranch.org
Where to Hike?
Today, when outdoor enthusiasts in Petaluma ask where they can hike on our side of our beautiful mountain, the answer, lamentably, is still “nowhere.”
But many of us, with the continued support of Sonoma Mountain Preservation and others, are determined to change that.
Before too long, I am certain, Lafferty Ranch will be opened to the public, as long planned. And one day too, I hope it will become part of the existing and growing network of public lands and trails on Sonoma Mountain, so that our children and grandchildren can once again hike over the mountain from valley to valley, in the footsteps of the Coast Miwok, Mariano Vallejo, and Jack London.
This post, by Larry Modell, is one of a series of guest posts from local residents on “Why I Love The Mountain” on SonomaMountain.org. Thank you Larry for your contribution, and we encourage readers to find out how they can help Lafferty open to the public.