One day a friend phoned us to ask where they could go hiking east of Petaluma on Sonoma Mountain. We calmly informed them that besides a docent-led tour of Fairfield-Osborne Preserve, (a fabulous place but not exactly near Petaluma, it is accessed by going through Penngrove, then almost to Rohnert Park) the entire west slope of Sonoma Mountain is off-limits to the public.
They kept asking, sure that there was a place that might have a waterfall, or some small hiking trail at least—it was a big mountain range after all—the views must be great, the trails must be fabulous. No, we said, no public access exists anywhere on the entire mountain range that watches over our town. Indeed, that is what the fuss has been about over Lafferty Park for the past fifteen years. Though the city of Petaluma owns 270 acres on Sonoma Mountain, with a gate to it right off Sonoma Mountain Road, and it has been designated to be a park in the city’s General Plans since the 1960’s, and it is the only publicly owned land on our side of the mountain, we, as citizens, are not allowed there.
The headwaters of Adobe Creek (formerly the city’s drinking water source) are on this city-owned mountaintop acreage and there are plenty of waterfalls in the spring. There are spectacular views of Petaluma, even all the way to San Francisco on a clear day. The trees, animals, flowers and the land itself are vibrating with energy and beauty. So what is the problem?
Many excuses have been brought up over the years. 1) The roads: some say Sonoma Mountain Road is too dangerous for the public. But there are roads far more dangerous and un-maintained leading to Santa Rosa Parks. 2) Partying on the road. As far as I can tell, there is already partying on that road and others in the Petaluma environs and a more regular presence may even prevent partying there. 3) The hill is too steep to hike on. All I can say to this is: Mount Tam is steeper and that doesn’t seem to be a problem. 4) The fragile land and bird life. It is no more fragile than anywhere else, including the floodplain and oak woodlands in the valley that are currently being built on. A ranger and a trail building program, making Lafferty a wilderness park (as opposed to creating paved trails throughout it) and posting information about the flora and fauna, would take care of this. There are plenty of wild places in Marin and Santa Rosa that have trails where people can co-exist with nature. And people want and need to experience wild places.
On the other side of the moutain, in the Sonoma Valley, Jack London State Park beckons the visitor, and if Lafferty is made a park, (as it was designated to be in past City General plans) it can connect to Jack London State Park and hikers could actually walk all the way over the mountain.
So what to tell our friends about where to hike on Sonoma Mountain? Unfortunately, we had to tell them that there is no public land on our side of the Mountain, that they would have to go south to Olompali State Park or Marin where many public parks exist for people to walk in and immerse themselves in nature for a few hours.
I had the feeling our friends didn’t quite believe us; that there must be some little place we just don’t know about, but they will find that there is not, and when they realize what has happened with Lafferty Park, Petaluma’s mountaintop cathedral, I wonder what they will do?
For more information on the story of Lafferty Park, and how you can help to open it, go to: