Sonoma hikers’ favorite in-city pathway, the Sonoma Overlook Trail, will be closed for trail improvements for up to 12 weeks this summer for an extensive rehabilitation project.
Initially set to start April 12, the rehabilitation work is now set to begin in mid-June, according to the city’s Public Works department, and to remain closed as late as mid-September. The trail will be closed to the public beginning Sunday, June 17.
The Sonoma Overlook Trail, whose trailhead is off Norrbom Road just north of the Veterans Building and adjacent to the Mountain Cemetery, provides a 3-mile roundtrip hike to an overlook of the city. It was formed by a citizens group in the late 1990s, during public controversy over a proposed resort on the hillside.
“The trail had less than 5,000 visits per year when it was first put in, and that has mushroomed to about 55,000 a year today,” said Joanna Kemper, co-chair of the all-volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail (SOT) Stewards. “We are glad it is so popular but there are a number of major repairs and improvements needed to make the trail safer, more sustainable and maintainable.”
The downside of this high usage is that it has contributed to soil erosion and exposure of bedrock, creating unsure footing and safety hazards in places, said Kemper. In some segments, trail layout and wear cause rain to rush down the trail bed instead of sheeting across it and down the hillside habitat in a natural pattern.
During the October fires, CalFire bulldozers cut fire breaks through the area, further degrading some of the trails and hillsides.
The stewards have worked with trail designer Don Beers to identify issues and develop solutions. Beers, who has worked on Montini Preserve and other trails in this region, based his recommendations on trail sustainability principles. They include following land contours wherever possible; avoiding harm to natural and cultural resources and disruption of natural hydraulic flow patterns; and constructing trails to withstand the impacts of users and major storm events.
The work will be undertaken by a crew of 12 young adults and two experienced trail-building supervisors with American Conservation Experience (USAconservation.org). Examples of the improvements include: stone steps at the badly-eroded main trailhead; a 795-foot reroute to avoid a severely degraded segment on the Lower Trail; rebuilding of climbing turns and junctions; and short runs of steps at key locations to alleviate gradient and erosion issues.
During the trail’s closure, the SOT stewards recommend a number of other local hiking trails, including Montini Preserve, Sonoma Valley Regional Parks, and Jack London and Sugarloaf Ridge state parks, as well as a number of shorter trails in the city of Sonoma such as the Bike Path, Nathanson Creek Parkway, Fryer Creek Trail and Maxwell Farms Regional Park.
“For many people, hiking Overlook and enjoying the natural surroundings and beautiful views is part of their regular routine,” said Kemper. That routine may have to change this summer.