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Maxwell Park citizen’s group shifts focus

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Ongoing efforts to build consensus about the future of Maxwell Park will take the form of an all-day series of community workshops on Friday this week, June 26. It’s organized by Larry Davis, who founded the citizen’s group Friends of Maxwell Park with a specific interest in the park’s history and traditional uses, but who admits he’s changing his own ideas about the 80-acre park’s future.

“Several months of listening to local residents, park users, and other stakeholders has led me to significantly rethink the issues and possibilities of the park,” said Davis, 73. Instead of a regional rural park, with its emphasis on open space and natural environments, Davis now leans toward a community urban park, one that fulfills the recreational and social needs of the densely populated neighborhoods that surround it.

“One of the things about urban parks is they’re places for people to do health and exercise activities, they’re places for people to go outdoors for lunch, they’re places to have art exhibits and music festivals and food festivals and all kinds of other events,” he said.

He’s also adopted the “transform” terminology around which plans for the future of Sonoma Developmental Center are being evaluated, and is calling to “transform Maxwell Park into an urban community park.”

The 80-acre park now includes soccer and baseball fields, a playground, a skate park, picnic areas, tennis and volleyball courts, and 2.5 miles of nature trails. Sonoma County Regional Parks is updating the park’s Master Plan as a guide for future improvements, which will be undertaken as funding becomes available.

Steve Ehret, park planner for the county agency, said in reference to Davis’ plans, “Regional Parks welcomes grassroots efforts and citizen participation, but we don’t have anything to do with this particular effort.” Ehret said the department is still analyzing the content of their public meetings on the Master Plan proposals over two months ago, and will have another public meeting later this summer.

Davis, however, wants to keep the momentum going. “I don’t want to waste the summer, so to speak, or the interest and concern we have now” only to have to rebuild that enthusiasm in the fall. He’s enlisted several others in the community to help lead the one-hour “drop-in, hands-on, open-house style community workshops” on a half-dozen or so topics, with the first one starting at 10 a.m. on Friday and the last at 6 p.m.

Forty years ago the former Maxwell Farms location was envisioned as a rural neighborhood, and the set-aside for Maxwell Fields Regional Park included a mile of free-flowing streambed for Sonoma Creek, with its beaver dams and trout pools, as well as aquifer- feeding wetlands and other natural features.

Though the Sonoma Creek riparian corridor is still largely intact, the surrounding area is now one of the densest urban neighborhoods in Sonoma Valley. Since the rural character cannot be easily reclaimed, even the preservationist Davis concedes that the priorities must change with the times.

“Our challenge is to develop a new 21st century urban community park which serves multiple multi-cultural, social, and recreational interests; is safe and accessible for elders, the handicapped and small children; preserves and enhances the park’s exquisite environmental qualities; and is sustainably and cost effectively managed,” wrote Davis in the announcement for the workshops.

The issue of access in particular seems to have animated Davis. “If it were a community park, the first thing you’d look at is access,” he said. “In watching people use the park, watching women with strollers trying to get their babies across Verano Avenue into the park, watching kids on their bikes fall, you say, ‘Wow, this is a mess.’”

Seniors from the Finish American Home Association (FAHA), where the Friday workshops will be held, also have difficulty crossing the sometimes-busy street to reach the recreational area just across the street. The park’s relative lack of benches and other rest areas, and absence of shade trees around the playgrounds, are also relatively easy, inexpensive fixes that could be made, said Davis.