By Suzie Rodriguez
Most people agree that spending time in parks is good for your health. But the experience of one Sonoma County couple suggests that visiting parks is good for your love life too.
For their first date, Jessica Pollitz and Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp went hiking at Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve in Santa Rosa. Jessica brought along her Siberian huskies, Azu and Shasta. The weather was beautiful, the experience played out perfectly, and everyone had a splendid time.
"We're both super-outdoorsy and into hiking and bicycling, so we started thinking about future dates, where we could go outdoors, all the places we might explore," recalled Aaron. "I'm a Regional Parks member, and somehow the idea came up about visiting every park in the system.
"We thought if Taylor Mountain was so great, what else is out there? We both like having goals and checklists, so it became a fun challenge for us to get to each park in the system."
"We were really serious about it," said Jessica. "We put the parks map on a bulletin board. We'd insert push pins when we visited a park and put up photos. Sometimes we wouldn't have definite plans about where to go, so we'd look at the map and pick a place we hadn't been. Other times, we'd be really organized - one weekend we went to five or six parks around Bodega, right when the gray whales were migrating."
Adventures in Dating
Over the course of about 16 months - from March 2015 to July 2016 - Aaron and Jessica visited all 50-plus Regional Parks on their map.
Along the way, they swam in the Gualala River, went tubing in the Russian River near Healdsburg, learned about wild mushrooms from a Daily Acts class at Ragle Ranch in Sebastopol, played disc golf at Crane Creek near Rohnert Park, and often invited friends along to share their parks adventures.
"We loved finding places off the beaten path," said Jessica, "like Soda Springs Reserve in Annapolis. It's really a hidden treasure, but we might never have gone there if it hadn't been on the list. It's a little redwood grove way up north. We had a wonderful picnic lunch there."
In 2016, they camped out in Regional Parks all 12 months. Gualala Point Regional Park was one of their favorites. "That's an amazing place, right on the ocean," said Jessica. "The beach is gorgeous. We saw whales there, too, and also went hiking up the Gualala River to go swimming."
They also enjoyed bike camping near the ocean at Stillwater Cove Regional Park. They cycled to the park on Highway 1, a trip of 40 miles each way.
They'll Always Have Hudeman Slough
Both Aaron and Jessica cite their 51st and final park visit as the most memorable. They put a canoe in at the Hudeman Slough boat launch near San Pablo Bay and paddled through the wetlands.
"We borrowed my parents' canoe,” Jessica said. “It was beautiful on the water, and because it was the last park, there was something ceremonial about it."
"The Regional Parks are such a fabulous resource," Aaron said. "I'm so happy we live here and have all these outdoor places, the trails created for us to use. I'm so grateful for the park system and our county.”
Canoeing at Hudeman Slough may have been the last of their all-parks adventure, but it’s certainly not the last of Jessica and Aaron.
The Santa Rosa couple got engaged on a backpacking trip to Channel Islands National Park and were married in August 2018. They organized two parks activities for their wedding guests: a hike at Riverfront Regional Park and a brunch at Spring Lake Regional Park.
Advice to Get Started
Thinking about visiting all the Regional Parks ? Here are a few tips from Jessica and Aaron:
- “Just getting out there is the important thing. There are so many parks for whatever you want to do. Just explore your parks.”
- “Access the parks in different ways. We did some by bikes, others by canoe, day hikes, camping.”
- “ Volunteer with trail crews. We've done it twice. We want to contribute what we can to protect these places.”
Jessica Pollitz is an engineer with the Sonoma Resource Conservation District. Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp is sustainability manager at Jackson Family Wines. This post was originally published in August 2017 and updated in 2019.
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