While most of Sonoma County’s regional parks are in full or partial recovery from the October fires, two of them – Hood Mountain in the Sonoma Valley, and Tom Schopflin Fields in Larkfield – remain entirely closed, with no set date to open.
For Hood Mountain, the 1,750-acre wilderness park on the edge of the Sonoma Valley, a new danger was revealed with the recent release of the county’s Post-Fire Hazard Assessment report, foretelling high risk of landslides and flooding that might affect the park when, and if, the rains come.
“Cal Fire has told us that a 10-year flood event would be magnified to a 100-year event, because of the lack of the ability of the land to absorb rainfall,” said Melanie Parker, deputy director of Sonoma County Regional Parks. Not only trees and topsoil, but a significant portion of subsoil has been damaged by high-intensity fires.
“One way of looking at burn severity is looking at the soil,” said Parker. “If the fire stays in place a long time or is particularly hot, it will burn down past the duff into the subsoil.” That can cause damage to the micro-root structure in the soil, which in turn can lead to instability and a greater risk of landslides.
Hood Mountain deserves particular attention because if the severity of its burn, which comprised about 60 percent of the park’s area.
“I am very worried about Mt. Hood,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin at a Board of Supervisors meeting last month, where county officials authorized a year-long contract to evaluate fire damage and create a flood warning network.
On Dec. 26, the county and the City of Santa Rosa released an interactive online map – SonomaCountyRecovers.org/rain-ready – showing which parts of the fire areas in Sonoma, and neighboring counties, are at low, medium or high risk for flash floods and slides of mud and debris.
The map shows that much of Sonoma Valley is at moderate risk in the burn area, but there’s a concentrated area of high risk on the south side of Hood Mountain, along Hood Creek near the Pythian Road park access.
So far, the light rains and sunny weather have been beneficial rather than malevolent. “We’re lucking out,” Parker said, recalling last year’s autumn arrival of the “atmospheric rivers” that dumped over 15 inches of rain in the area during the last three months of 2016. So far, that total is under 5 inches.
Hood Mountain adjoins Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, and it’s the border area of the two parks that was most severely burned in what came to be known as the Nuns Fire – mostly during the second week of the fire, after the area escaped significant damage between Oct. 8 and 12.
“It could very well be closed for a long time, if we do get a major rain event,” cautioned Parker.
But she was hopeful that parts of the park – including the so-called McCormick Addition that links Hood Mountain with Sugarloaf – might be opened up on its own before the rest of the park.
Calling it “a hidden wilderness gem right outside of Santa Rosa,” Parker said the area on the northwest side of Hood Mountain was largely unburned, and the access up Los Alamos Road might be the first to open. The headwaters of Santa Rosa Creek, the Homestead Meadow, and the Grandmother Tree off Headwaters Trail in Sugarloaf are all in this area.
Hood Mountain Recovery
“The devastation from the fire is significant, but nature has a magical way to restore.” – Supervisor Susan Gorin.
Parks like Hood, Annadel, Sonoma Valley, and Shiloh provided fire fighters an opportunity to slow the fires and keep them from burning additional neighborhoods. Parks are among the unsung heroes in the story of the October Fires.
Burn damage: Hood Mountain Regional Park: 66% - 1338 acres (of 1750 acres)
- Erosion: We are concerned about recently burned soils with the rains approaching
- We are using straw and seed on some of the most heavily impacted areas on Hood where fire crews were staged.
- We are using downed wood and straw waddles to armor key drainages.
- We are cleaning all culverts and installing more trash racks
- Hazard trees: We are focusing on burned trees that may come down on trails.
- We are surveying all trails in parks that experienced fire and using the US Park Service hazard rating system to decide which trees are removed now, and which we monitor through the winter and reassess.
- Our parks are all situated in fire-adapted ecosystems. We know that much of the vegetation will respond and recover on its own. We are adopting the principle of “Do no harm” when it comes to much of the forest. Areas with unnatural levels of disturbance will be actively rehabilitated.
- Fuels (vegetation) reduction has always been a priority, with attention given to grazing, mowing, disking and the clearing of shaded fuel breaks. That work will continue and likely expand in the years to come.
- While many wildlife species were likely impacted, we also see signs that birds, squirrels, deer and many other animals either survived in place, or are colonizing our parks from the surrounding areas. Again, parks will recover.
- Please respect the park closures. There are real safety concerns.
Sonoma County Regional Parks: Hood Mountain information