Op-Ed: The desertification of Maxwell Farms Regional Park

By Giulia Latini

Today I am sad. I’m not often sad, being of optimistic nature. However, what should have been a nice walk in the park today turned out to be a sunbaked walk in desolation.

I am speaking, of course, of Maxwell Farms Regional Park. I have been enjoying this park, and the creek running through it, for more than 50 years. It was, progressively, the scene of many a family picnic, make-out sessions, skinny-dipping nights, sleeping babies in strollers under the shady bay laurels while chatting with other young mothers, walks with growing children through sparkling meadows and under dripping trees in the winter, walks with my dogs in later life.

Today, what I saw finally broke my heart. To be clear, over the years I have picked up garbage, dogs’ feces, junk along the creek (including clothing, glass, a pillow, blankets, a lawn chair and a bolt-cutter) so it’s not always a pretty sight. But nature always prevailed and the creek flowed and the old fruit trees and blackberries blossomed and the bay laurels continued to propagate with their swooping limbs starting new growth in the ground below. But then, today I saw a maimed and sickly park.

I saw 30-foot-wide swaths of bulldozed and tilled earth surrounding and crisscrossing the meadows to such an extent that “the meadows” are now tiny forlorn patches of invasive grasses and plants. I suppose that these swaths are considered fire breaks, but it seems over-kill to me. What are we all, lurking pyros?

Invasive grasses and vines are taking over the park. No trees (besides the token sad trees near the skate park) have been planted to replace the aging ones already there, and the few native grasses that managed to spontaneously emerge have been weed-whacked to within an inch of their life all along the shallow gully between the ranger’s house and the Maxwell Village shopping center fence.

The few tables and barbeques next to the Boys & Girls Club have disappeared, and a gravelly, hot, dry area sits there instead. I suppose this is in deference to the tragedy that occurred there in 2007, but I would think that the improvement of those tables and group picnicking areas would have better honored the memory of our lost youth. They need more places to hang out, not fewer.

The creek bed at the little beach should be cleared of rocks and algae which, together, have managed to almost entirely block the small flow of water. To think, I would jump off a rope swing into 20 feet of water in this very same location many years ago. And catch crawdads in its crystal-clear depths, and look at the trout hovering in the shadowy areas along the sides.

The leaking faucets around the park should be repaired. The water wasted by dripping faucets is incalculable.

In all of my years of walking in the park, in every season, I have never, ever seen a ranger patrolling for vandals or cleaning up waste, just giving tickets to those who don’t pay the entrance fee. I understand that fees go toward maintaining this park and the structures required to do so, but there have to be more financially focused and growth-oriented ways of avoiding its degradation.

I intend to have my ashes spread in this park and I do hope it won’t be a parking lot by that time. Which brings to mind some very ominous rumors I have heard about “future plans” for Maxwell.

The only “plans” that should be made for Maxwell Farms Regional Park is to restore it to its natural habitat and maintain those delightful small trails that wind through the meadows, fruit trees and bay laurels that were the original legacy of the park. And stop letting everybody suck the water out of the creek for their vines and large homes.

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Giulia Latini lives in El Verano and her family has been in Sonoma for three generations. She has traveled the world many times but always returns to “my beloved Sonoma to recharge my batteries. And Maxwell Farms remains my favorite place to escape to for some peace and quiet.”