Santa Rosa, CA – December 5, 2018 –
The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has purchased and transferred nearly 1,200 acres along Mark West Creek to Sonoma County Regional Parks to eventually open to the public as a park and preserve. Ag + Open Space worked with local landowners for over 15 years to preserve this area northeast of Santa Rosa, investing nearly $23 million in local tax dollars.
“As a critical component our county’s water supply, the Mark West watershed is a priority for protection, enhancement, and enjoyment,” said 4th District Supervisor, James Gore – chair of the Board of Supervisors and the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors. “The conservation of our working and natural lands, including this new park and preserve, provides so many benefits to our urban communities, including clean and abundant drinking water supplies, flood control, and thriving salmon populations. We are learning so much about watershed health through the lens of last year’s fires and are committed to making our community and our watersheds resilient to extreme events, whether that be floods, fires, or other effects of climate change.”
“Our parks and open space are such an important part of the fabric of our community, creating respite for our residents year-round, but especially are places of solace during difficult times,” said Susan Gorin, 1st District Supervisor and Ag + Open Space Director. “I’m so pleased this new park and preserve will provide new recreational opportunities and places of refuge, while also protecting habitat for so many critically important fish and wildlife species.”
Since 2002, Ag + Open Space has worked with three families to purchase and protect nearly 1,200 acres of valuable scenic and natural resource lands. The district purchased the first 340 acres from the Cresta family in 2007. Over the course of the next decade, Ag + Open Space purchased five more parcels – 737 acres across two parcels from the McCullough family, 47 acres from the Wendle family, and an additional 68 acres across two parcels from the Cresta family. These properties make up the 1,192-acre Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, which will provide residents with large natural area to explore off Porter Creek Road, minutes from downtown Santa Rosa.
“We are so grateful to the Wendles, McCulloughs, and Crestas for allowing us the privilege of working with them to conserve their land over the last decade and more,” said Ag + Open Space General Manger Bill Keene. “Because of their desire to conserve their lands and share them with the community, we have this incredible opportunity to provide our residents with a wild, rugged, and beautiful natural area to explore so close to where many people live.”
Even though the park and preserve is close to an urban area, its rugged terrain and natural landscapes make it feel worlds away. The centerpiece is Mark West Creek, its tributaries, and an extensive riparian corridor that supports endangered species and significant natural habitat. The park and preserve includes a mix of grasslands, chaparral, oaks, Douglas fir, redwoods and riparian areas along Mark West, Porter, and Mill Creeks, all of which provide homes to such endangered species as Coho salmon and steelhead trout.
Ag + Open Space sought to conserve this area because of its natural resources, significant wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, and the potential for it to become a destination for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Further, the park and preserve joins with two other properties protected with Ag + Open Space conservation easements and Pepperwood Preserve to the north to form 4,500 acres of continuous protected land.
The new park and preserve also provides the community with an up-close opportunity to see how natural landscapes recover from last October’s wildfires. This landscape is adapted to fire and many plant species are able to thrive under these conditions. Coast redwoods, bays and other forest species are re-sprouting, and the burned slopes in the watershed continue to provide habitat for native species. The stream corridors on the properties largely avoided damage from the fire.
Ag + Open Space in late November 2018 transferred the suite of parcels to Sonoma County Regional Parks, who will now initiate an approximately five-year planning process to develop the land for public access. Regional Parks will offer interim public access through “park preview” days starting in 2019.
Ag + Open Space is able to provide three years of funding to pay for the initial costs of planning, operating and maintaining the preserve. Measure M, a 1/8-cent sales tax for Sonoma County parks approved by voters in November 2018, will provide crucial, longer-term funding for the future park.
“We appreciate the tremendous effort and vision that has made the transfer of these Mark West properties possible,” said Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker. “And we are grateful for the financial support voters have ensured. We are proud to own this stunning landscape and to start the process of turning it into the park for all to enjoy.”