Center for Environmental Reporting

CreekHorsesTailsSonoma County Regional Parks has received $1 million from the California River Parkways Program to help purchase 297 acres in the Mark West Creek watershed for a future regional park and open space preserve. The grant is among 33 statewide announced this week by the California Natural Resources Agency.

The award will be used on the second phase of acquisitions for the 1,100-acre Mark West Regional Park and Open Space Preserve envisioned for northeast Santa Rosa. The proposed park and preserve off of Porter Creek Road will link a stunning landscape of grasslands, woodlands, ridgelines, and creeks that flow to the Russian River and are home to steelhead trout and coho salmon.

UpperMarkWestMap2The properties feature 20 miles of developed trails for hikers, cyclists and equestrians leading to dramatic views of the Mayacamas and the Santa Rosa Plain and offer a unique nature experience only 15 minutes from downtown Santa Rosa.

"The Mark West properties have all the features of a perfect park and great ecological value for the region," said Regional Parks Director Caryl Hart. "We've been working on acquiring the land for some time, and the grant brings us one step closer to sharing this site with the public."

The Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and Regional Parks entered into an agreement last year to acquire and seek funding for the proposed parkland. The Land Trust is collaborating with Regional Parks to secure the approximately $8 million needed for the purchase while the Open Space District is leading negotiations for the acquisitions.

Regional Parks LogoThe grant will be used to complete the purchase of 275.5 acres of the McCullough ranch and 21.5 acres of the adjacent Cresta ranch, with the goal of finalizing the deal by the end of next year. The Open Space District acquired 340 acres of the Cresta property in 2007 and 461 acres of the McCullough property in 2009 for a total of $14 million. The ranches border protected lands to the north, and their acquisition would create a contiguous 4,500-acre wildlife corridor linking the Mayacamas to Mark West Creek and its tributaries.

Sonoma County representatives accepted the River Parkways grant at a ceremony in Sacramento on Wednesday. The grants are awarded to public agencies and nonprofits to acquire, restore, protect, and develop areas along rivers, streams and creeks and to improve public access. The grants are funded by Proposition 84, the water quality bond act California voters approved in 2006.

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