Nearly a hundred people recently gathered for the 20-year celebration of the Overlook Trail, the popular and picturesque hiking trail above Sonoma’s historic Mountain Cemetery. It’s a local treasure that almost never was. A legacy of the dedicated efforts of dozens of local residents, and the support of political leaders in the State Senate, City Council, and Board of Supervisors, this community enjoys and will continue to enjoy walking the Overlook Trail for generations.
At the celebration, trail-blazer Karen Collins thanked the many people who contributed their time, money, and labor to making the trail happen, and recounted the history that led up to its creation. Ironically, it all began with a proposal by Rosewood Hotels of Texas to lease the property from the city and build a luxury hotel. When that information became public, Joe Costello (later to become a City Council member and Mayor) spearheaded the drive to place a measure on the ballot to prevent the lease of that city property for the use of a hotel. Measure A, as it was called, won decisively.
It was then that Karen Collins and Maggie Haywood hatched the idea of creating a trail up the hillside, providing a recreational opportunity for everyone, enhanced by a spectacularly rewarding view at the top. Standing in the way were a lack of funds and the hazards of an old “burn” dump containing toxic materials. Then State Senator Wes Chesbro helped secure funding to clean up the dump site and, with the City of Sonoma’s cooperation, 400 truck loads of dump material were hauled off site. At that point, the opportunity for a safe trail began.
Senator Chesboro made the first donation and was joined by organizations such as Kiwanis and Rotary, as well as numerous individuals. Sonoma Valley High students helped create fundraising events; one senior, Dustin Bromley, built his class project around it. An experienced trail professional designed a plan, and construction began. Once the trail was completed, an all-volunteer trail-stewards cadre was formed to manage, maintain, and improve the trail. Over the years this group has been led by Hope Nisson, Jackie Steuer, John Donnelly, Joanna Kemper, and Jess Misuraca.
The story of the Overlook Trail is about how this community pulls together to accomplish its goals, including overcoming development pressure and its lure of money, putting hundreds of volunteer hours into a project, and sustaining involvement and enthusiasm. It’s an inspiring tale, well worth celebrating and replicating.
We’re hoping that the same sort of community effort will be put into the nearly 800 acres of open space to be preserved as part of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) development plan. While there is disagreement about the nature of the SDC development, all parties agree that preservation of the open space is desirable, but that that will only be accomplished when a plan for public access is created and executed.
There is so much local talent and experience in our community that can be brought to projects like this. Relying on government agencies or park districts alone is unnecessary and inefficient, and planning public access for hiking and recreation can and should begin now. The history of the Overlook Trail proves how much expertise and dedication we have in our Valley.