By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sonoma Valley ridge that offers panoramic views, oak woodlands and a cabin that may accommodate hikers is the newest addition to the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.
On clear days, the 360-degree view from the top of Divide Ridge takes in San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, as well as the valley below, said Caryl Hart, Regional Parks director.
The ridge, at about 1,800 feet, marks the divide between the Santa Rosa Creek and Sonoma Creek watersheds, she said.
It’s part of the 247-acre Lawson property, adjacent to Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve on Highway 12 across from Oakmont. The property was just handed over to the parks system by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
“It’s a really big deal,” Hart said, noting that the taxpayer-supported district is also providing $485,400 for improvements to the Lawson tract and operating costs over three years.
Regional Parks will receive an additional $100,000 donated by the Lawson family, she said.
The Lawson parcel will be added to Hood Mountain park, expanding it to nearly 2,000 acres, and will feature a 1.8-mile trail.
A rundown bunkhouse atop the ridge may be renovated to accommodate day hikers and overnight campers, becoming the first “environmental cabin” in the county parks system, Hart said.
With hike-in campgrounds already available, Hood Mountain affords a “wilderness experience” a short drive from Santa Rosa and Sonoma, she said.
“People have not discovered Hood yet,” Hart said, noting that the park is lightly used.
They won’t get to traverse the Lawson property until park planning, scheduled to begin this fall, and subsequent construction of the trail and other facilities are completed in the spring of 2016.
Guided tours of the property will begin in the fall, Hart said.
The Lawson deal is part of an ongoing effort to accelerate the opening of properties purchased years ago by the open space district, a process gummed up by California state parks balking at any new property and Regional Parks not having the resources to take it on entirely.
The district purchased the Lawson property for $1,160,000 in 2005.
Bill Keene, the district’s general manager, said the Lawson property is “going to become a destination,” with a 3-mile hike to the ridgetop cabin.
“People can roll out their sleeping bags and see the stars,” he said.
County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents Sonoma Valley, said the addition to Hood Mountain park will “fulfill the county’s goal to expand public recreational and educational opportunities in this area.”
Access to the Lawson property will come via the existing Hood Mountain parking area and trailhead on Pythian Road, leading to what Hart calls the park’s “front country.”
The park’s less-used “back country,” with a hike-in campground, is accessed from narrow, winding Los Alamos Road.
(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)