Santa Rosa, CA – October 9, 2018 – The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today approved the Tolay Lake Regional Park master plan, an action that allows the county’s largest park to open daily later this month.
The 3,400-acre park southeast of Petaluma has been in the planning phase for much of the past decade, with public access available only on weekends by special permit. Beginning Oct. 27, the park will be open every day, and permits will not be required.
“This has been a long time coming, and we appreciate the public’s patience,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District includes the park. “Tolay Lake has been a complex park to design. Now we’re days away from opening the gates and welcoming everyone to this truly unique setting.”
The park is named for the 200-acre seasonal lake that forms in the valley between its ridges. Tolay is the largest natural freshwater lake in Sonoma County and was a spiritual center for the local Coast Miwok as well as Native Americans from throughout California. The site is one of the most significant Native American cultural areas in California, according to park planners.
“The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria are proud to have worked with Sonoma County to create a model program whereby the Tribe can co-manage the park in order to both remember and understand the history and cultural significance of the land and to restore the land and its natural resources,” said Chairman Greg Sarris.
The park plan approved Tuesday represents not only a collaboration with Sonoma County Regional Parks and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which donated $500,000 for the planning costs, but also with Sonoma County Ag + Open Space and Sonoma Land Trust.
“We’re grateful to our partners for supporting this crucial phase of the park’s development,” said Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker. “The plan reflects a shared recognition of the land’s past and a shared vision for its future. We can’t wait to see visitors enjoying Tolay Lake Regional Park every day.”
The park currently features 11 miles of trails crossing rolling grasslands and open ridges with views of San Pablo Bay, the San Francisco skyline, and Bay Area peaks. The park includes much of the Tolay Creek watershed, which drains to San Pablo Bay. The park provides habitat for a variety of animals and birds, especially raptors, and is an important piece of a larger, protected wildlife corridor in southern Sonoma County.
Created through extensive study and community outreach, the park master plan will guide public access, development, and management in coming decades. The plan calls for a total 30 miles of trails, hike-in camp sites, a visitor center and bunkhouse, outdoor classrooms, equestrian amenities, and new picnic areas, restrooms, and parking.
The plan also recommends restoration of Tolay Lake and Tolay Creek, interpretation of the park’s cultural and natural histories, and continued ranching and livestock grazing. First farmed by European settlers in the mid-1800s, the site was in continuous agricultural use until it was purchased by land agencies a decade ago.
The park’s northwest corner includes a ranch complex formerly owned by the Cardoza family. The ranch was the site of a popular pumpkin patch for many years and is the setting for Regional Parks’ annual Tolay Fall Festival, taking place this year on Oct. 13-14 and Oct. 20-21.
The 1,737-acre Cardoza ranch was purchased by the taxpayer-funded Sonoma County Ag + Open Space and transferred to Regional Parks in 2005. The adjacent 1,665-acre Tolay Creek Ranch was purchased by the nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust and transferred to Regional Parks in 2017. Together, the properties form Tolay Lake Regional Park and Preserve, now the largest park in the Regional Parks system. Ag + Open Space holds conservation easements on both properties.
“We’re so excited for residents to be able to explore this naturally diverse and culturally rich landscape,” said Ag + Open Space General Manager Bill Keene. “We’re honored to have been able to use public funds to protect both Tolay Lake Ranch and Tolay Creek Ranch for their agricultural values, their varied habitats supporting myriad species, and the recreational opportunities they provide our community.”
“We’re thrilled to play a role in connecting people to this very special place,” said Sonoma Land Trust Executive Director Dave Koehler. “We couldn’t ask for a better partner to work with than Regional Parks on protection and stewardship of the land and its enjoyment by all.”
Because many of the concepts in the park plan lack funding, they will be implemented as money becomes available and likely will be phased in over several decades. In the meantime, the park will open with limited amenities and its existing trails, many of which are former ranch roads.
The park master plan is available at sonomacounty.ca.gov/Parks/Planning/Tolay-Lake-Regional-Park-Master-Plan. In addition to the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, planning funding came from the California Coastal Conservancy, the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation, park mitigation fees, and Transient Occupancy Tax revenue.
Tolay Lake Regional Park is at 5869 Cannon Lane, off of Lakeville Highway. Hours will be 7 a.m. to sunset daily beginning Saturday, Oct. 27. Intermittent park closures may be necessary due to road work on Cannon Lane later this year. Check the park page at SonomaCountyParks.org for its current status.
About Sonoma County Regional Parks
The Regional Parks system includes 56 parks, beaches, and trails throughout Sonoma County. Regional Parks’ mission is to create healthy communities and contribute to the county’s economic vitality by acquiring, developing, managing, maintaining parks. Regional Parks preserves natural and cultural resources and offers opportunities for recreation and education that enhance the quality of life and well-being of residents and visitors.