NEARBY HIKE Two hikers cross a bridge in Mark West Creek Regional Park and Preserve on a preview hike in 2019. The park should become fully open to the public in late 2024.

Residents of Sonoma County are about to get another prized destination for hiking, possibly riding and certainly for communing with nature—and it’s only an 18-mile drive away from Healdsburg, 10 as the raven flies.

The proposed Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, a 1,192-acre hiking and riding destination, will be the latest to join the county’s Regional Parks system, 58 properties strong and counting. The parcel, which came to the county’s attention as long ago as 1967 and became county property in 2018, is located off Porter Creek Road.

It is primarily in the Mark West Creek watershed, a distant tributary of the Russian River. Portions of Mill Creek and Porter Creek run through it as well, on the western slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.

CREEKSIDE VIEW Hikers pause to enjoy Mark West Creek during their preview hike of Sonoma County’s newest regional park, set to fully open to the public in late 2024.

Gentle canyons of oak woodlands and evergreen forests bisect the preserve, with open meadows providing views of the Mayacamas and Mount St. Helena to the north. The creeks are salmon habitat, the woods a songbird’s home; wildlife from vole to cougar can be found.

The two-square-mile area went through a period of ownership by the county’s Ag + Open Space (the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District), which with funding from a 1/4-cent sales tax was able to purchase the property in 2007. Other recent Regional Parks, including Calabazas Creek in Sonoma Valley, have also come into the regional parks system by means of a similar path.

The park can be reached via Mark West Springs Road, which becomes Porter Creek Road at a point near Safari West. A parking lot with restrooms and picnic areas is planned close to the park entry, and a trail system over several footbridges is in the works that would allow visitors to explore the open space property and its environments by tire, hoof or foot. Two trail camps are proposed for overnight visits.

But at present the park is only accessible to the public on semi-monthly guided day-long hikes of up to 8 miles with a limited number of participants. February’s program is sold out, March’s yet just been announced as March 16, reservations here.

For the past five years, the park has been involved in the often lengthy, yet comprehensive, Master Planning process. The process has reached the point where a second public survey is underway, asking for input on some “amenities” people would like to see at the largely open-space park. These include backcountry camping, bird observation areas, accessible paths, educational exhibits, a fenced-off dog area (with Ag + Open Space approval), and campsites or even cabins.

Respondents are asked to rank those choices and make other preferences known as well, from size of picnic areas to type of trails preferred. The SurveyMonkey assessment takes a thoughtful 15 minutes to complete.

Take the survey at markwestcreekparkandpreserve.org/survey/.

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Christian Kallen has called Healdsburg home for over 30 years. A former travel writer and web producer, he has worked with Microsoft, Yahoo, MSNBC and other media companies, usually in an editorial capacity. He started reporting locally in 2012, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.

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