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Hikers return to the Sonoma Overlook Trail

Bill & Dave’s Saturday hike

If you’re up for a more strenuous hike, Bill Myers and Dave Chalk are tackling Jack London State Historic Park – which has waived entrance fees through the end of December – that same day, Saturday Dec. 2. They’ll climb the Sonoma Ridge Trail and the East Slope Extension, a “very strenuous hike of 12 miles with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet,” said Myers.

The pair, who lead hikes under the banner of Bill & Dave’s Hikes, contacted their mailing list in the midst of the inferno to let people know that their scheduled Oct. 21 hike at Hood Mountain Regional Park was cancelled, and their scheduled November hike as well.

“We’re limited in what we can do on our standard hikes,” said Myers. “Fortunately Jack London is in good shape, so that’s where we’re going this Saturday.”

Departure time is 10 a.m. from the upper parking lot, so Myers suggests meeting there by 9:45. Bring a lunch and liquids and wear clothing appropriate for the weather, rain or shine.

Hikers and nature lovers are beginning to come out to play again, nearly two months since the October fires put a sudden halt to enjoying the colors and climate of autumn. This weekend, two groups are getting back in the swing of things with hikes at both Jack London State Historic Park and on Sonoma’s own Overlook Trail – the latter a kind of welcome-back anniversary party.

An all-star cast of Sonoma nature enthusiasts will lead a “community gratitude hike” at the Overlook Trail, on Saturday, Dec. 2. Sonoma Overlook Trail co-founders, Karen Collins and Maggie Haywood, current Sonoma Alcalde Ted Elliot, and former Rotary Conservationist of the Year Joanne Kemper will be among those on hand to welcome hikers on the newly reopened Overlook Trail.

State Senator Bill Dodd is also confirmed, and Kemper said that several of the Sonoma City Council will be there, too. It starts at 9 a.m. at the trailhead with coffee, muffins and music from Paul Genovese and Bob Taylor.

It serves not only as a welcome-back hike for the trail itself – closed to the public since Cal Fire bulldozers scoured the landscape to prevent the Norrbom Fire from spreading into city limits – but a belated 15th anniversary party, as well.

The trail, established in a joint effort between the City of Sonoma and the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, was dedicated on Oct. 12, 2002, following a community campaign to save what was then the Upper Mountain Cemetery property from development.

Rosewood Resorts had lobbied the city to allow a 105-room luxury hotel to be built on the cemetery – a plan that seemed at the time to have the nod-and-wink approval of the city council. But a citizens petition put Measure A on the ballot to prohibit the resort. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.

“They were proposing to do a big resort up there when Karen and Maggie got involved; they were the dynamos that started and circulated the petition to have the city dedicate that as a public estate,” said Jeni Nichols, co-chair of the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards.

Reached by phone, Collins gave credit to local attorney Joe Costello for the petition, but agreed that the campaign was an important chapter in Sonoma’s story, as was the trail that resulted.

“We wanted it to be a community asset and wanted people to use it,” she said, remembering her effots in the late 1990s to convince the city to back the trail. “We kept telling the city council that people would use it. They said, ‘Nobody will ever go up there, it’s too far away.’ And now, some days it’s hard to find a parking place.”

One complication: An old city dump, in use until the 1950s, was on the property, and before a trail or a resort or any public use could be considered, the dump had to be cleaned up. Collins recalls that then-state Senator Wesley Chesbro helped get funds from the state and EPA to clean up the dump.

The dump was not far from the cemetery gate, just beyond where the current Overlook Trail crosses the creek and heads up the hillside. This is exactly the area most heavily-damaged by Cal Fire bulldozers during the days when a resurgent Norrbom Fire was bearing down on the City of Sonoma, and the resulting ruin on the trail – while a reluctant necessity – took some effort to repair.

Bill & Dave’s Saturday hike

If you’re up for a more strenuous hike, Bill Myers and Dave Chalk are tackling Jack London State Historic Park – which has waived entrance fees through the end of December – that same day, Saturday Dec. 2. They’ll climb the Sonoma Ridge Trail and the East Slope Extension, a “very strenuous hike of 12 miles with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet,” said Myers.

The pair, who lead hikes under the banner of Bill & Dave’s Hikes, contacted their mailing list in the midst of the inferno to let people know that their scheduled Oct. 21 hike at Hood Mountain Regional Park was cancelled, and their scheduled November hike as well.

“We’re limited in what we can do on our standard hikes,” said Myers. “Fortunately Jack London is in good shape, so that’s where we’re going this Saturday.”

Departure time is 10 a.m. from the upper parking lot, so Myers suggests meeting there by 9:45. Bring a lunch and liquids and wear clothing appropriate for the weather, rain or shine.

Chris Pegg, of the City of Sonoma Public Works, and the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards, assembled a crew of about 30 to scrape the bulldozer tracks and lay down rice straw to start the restoration process.

“It’s already started to grow through. It was such a heartbreak when you first saw it, but now with the rains and the straw and the evening out, it’s just amazing,” said Nichols.

Not only will the hike be a chance to see the repair to the trail, but it will also preview a long-planned, overdue rehabilitation of the trail, including rerouting portions of it to avoid storm runoff damage, and begin soil and plant restoration.

Thanks to donations from a number of organizations, including the Kiwanis, Scott Evans Foundation, Impact 100 Sonoma and a state grant, the Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards have enough support to fund a long overdue rehabilitation of the trail entrance. The project is now expected to get fully underway in April of next year.

“I think the trail is enjoyed by everyone so much, and I’m just amazed by the level of engagement,” said Nichols. “Last year we had 55,000 visitors; I would imagine it’s going to be even more than that in the future.” With Sugarloaf and Hood Mountain being closed, Jack London and the Overlook Trail are the best remaining choices for getting a hiker’s workout.

The Gratitude Celebration begins at 9 a.m. at the Overlook Trail kiosk, 198 First St. W., at the beginning of Norrbom Road. It’s free, though donation envelopes will be available. At about 9:30 hikers can begin the three-mile round trip hike to the Upper Loop and its unimpeded views of Sonoma and the Valley.

For more on the Overlook Trail, visit sonomaecologycenter.org/sonoma-overlook-trail.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.