A first look at post-fire Sugarloaf Park

Posted on October 14, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Park operators are still taking stock of the damage done to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park by the recent Glass Fire — both in acres burned and the economic impact yet to come.

The park is operated by the Sonoma Ecology Center, which reports that although nearly three-quarters of its vast acreage burned, the park appears to have lost mostly vegetation, with structural damage limited to trail steps and bridges. The Visitors Center and campground area, for example, were spared, as was the Robert Ferguson Observatory.

The park is currently closed, and the challenge of that lost revenue looms large. “This is the second time this year, and the third time since 2017, that we’ve been forced to close for an extended period,” said Park Manager John Ronery. “And that means we’re losing revenue that we don’t get back, even though it will take money to rebuild.”

Using GPS data, park operators estimate that just over 75 percent of the 4,700-acre park burned, including the McCormick Addition.

Though the damage was mostly to vegetation, an unfortunate exception was the loss of The Red Barn, a signature structure of the park and a popular destination for its backcountry hikers. The barn was built in 1906 as part of the Hurd family homestead. It was last visited on September 27, by Roney and others—and burned down soon after.

Rooney is an employee of Sonoma Ecology Center, which manages Sugarloaf for California State Park. He credits Cal Fire firefighters for putting down effective fire lines and lighting backfires in strategic locations.

The park is currently closed to the public. For now, staff access is limited to the park’s “front country” — the Visitor Center, campground area, and other developed parts of the park.

Trails and roads beyond that are still too dangerous to travel. SEC staff members will fully assess the damage once they are able to access the trails and the more rugged ‘back country’ areas.

Roney said the park team will work with volunteers and partners to repair damage to trails and bridges, and reopen the park as soon as possible, “just as we did in 2017.” The rebuild after the Tubbs Fire cost us tens of thousands—but would have been many times higher without the help of volunteers and generous donations of money and materials from the community.”

Staff members will eventually lead a renewed series of public Fire Recovery Hikes, said the SEC’s Don Frances, just as they did after the 2017 fires. “The popular series teaches the public about the resilient nature of our fire-evolved environment.”

Executive Director Richard Dale said the SEC “is becoming a resilient and fire-evolved organization, just like the Sonoma Valley environment that we cherish and protect.”

–Photos by Diane Askew


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