Mike McGuire giving speech in the rain
RAINY CEREMONY State Sen. Mike McGuire speaks as State Parks director Armando Quintero, City Councilmember Chris Herrod and Supervisor James Gore (with umbrellas at right) listen at the opening of the new Fitch Mountain Park and Open Space and Villa Dog Park, on a rainy Saturday, May 4.

By Christian Kallen

The term “rain or shine” took on its absolutist meaning on Saturday, when the official opening of the Fitch Mountain Trail and Villa Dog Park took place on schedule—regardless of the steady drizzle.

Long in planning as a way to mark the fulfillment of a decades-old dream to turn Fitch Mountain, the anchor and axle of Healdsburg, into a public park with open trail access to the summit, the date May 4 was picked weeks ago, and a little rain wasn’t going to delay the occasion.

Solo Rio played live music with a grateful theme, notables came from as near as City Hall and as far as the State House, and everyone gamely put their best foot forward to slog ahead with the ceremony. Taking the Bark-and-Ride shuttle from the high school parking lot, the witnesses came, some with dogs, to explore the newly-remodeled Villa Chanticleer Dog Park, hear the speeches, share in the moment and witness the all-star ribbon cutting.

Mark Themig at Fitch Mountain
IN ATTENDANCE Healdsburg’s Community Services director Mark Themig joined others at the inauguration of the Fitch Mountain Park and Open Space.

Speeches and Thanks

Healdsburg’s Mayor David Hagele took the podium right on schedule at 10:45 to avoid any unnecessary delays. “I want us to pause and, no pun intended, soak in this moment… you can smell the rain and everything else. The sounds, the rain dropping on our neighbors that we’re here with today. Take a deep breath and take it all in: This moment now is what Sen. Mike McGuire has worked hard on, from the time he was on the Healdsburg City Council.”

The introduction of McGuire himself took much longer, as it included his many accomplishments in public service, from the time he won election to the Healdsburg school board, at the age of 19, to his current position, at 40, as president pro tempore of the California State Senate.

When McGuire bounded to the stage, the rain hadn’t let up, but it didn’t dampen his spirits. “The good news is this late season storm is going to be bringing May flowers and golden poppies to the top of the mountain, am I right?” he said, coaxing another cheer out of the multitudes huddling beneath umbrellas and dripping hats.

“I’m going to be quick because all of us are drenched to our toes,” continued McGuire. “But my bottom line is this: Today we’re here to be able to celebrate a town, we’re here to celebrate its people and its love of a mountain. And let’s be honest, we couldn’t do one without the other.”

A Healdsburg native, he spoke with first-hand knowledge of Fitch Mountain. “It’s a scenic backdrop of our daily lives in Healdsburg. It welcomes a community home each night after a hard day’s work. And it’s where the mighty Russian River turns to the Pacific.”

Public Trail

While Fitch Mountain has long been a visual and emotional center of Healdsburg, it was only with this May 4 ceremony that its trail to the top was officially opened to the public. People have long walked the fire trail that followed an unnamed seasonal creek toward the hill’s summit (technically, at a little over 990 feet, Fitch does not warrant the sobriquet “mountain”), but it was always private property with foot travel tolerated, not welcomed.

MUDDY NECKLACE Dramatic drone image of Fitch Mountain surrounded by high water in the Russian River, taken on Jan. 8. (Photo by Tom Rennie/Tomsaerials)

But for many Healdsburg locals, the goal of bringing Fitch Mountain into the public sphere has been a top priority. “We are here today because of your persistence and your tenacity,” said McGuire to the audience. “And this mountain is yours forever. And we need to say thank you, thank you to the community of Healdsburg, thank you to the people of Northern Sonoma County. Because of your hard work, this mountain will be open for generations to enjoy.”

He recounted working with the neighborhood associations, with Land Paths—which for a long time has held an easement to the mountain, but one which did not include public access—and with the county and state agencies that eventually made the dedication possible. “And after 20 long years, we shook hands with representatives from the ownership group at Flakey Cream over donuts. And it is in true Healdsburg style that this deal got done.”

Though it is indisputable that thanks to the tireless work of McGuire (“tireless” is the man’s signature adjective) that the day arrived, but as he was quick to remind everyone, it was a group effort. Other speakers included many from just those groups: Dillon and Trenton Williams from the Pomo, Amy Hutzel from the Coastal Conservancy and Armando Quintero, currently the director of California State Parks. All spoke eloquently and sincerely of the importance of adding Fitch Mountain to the city’s collection of public parks.

Partners in Preservation

Umbrellas and speaker
Potential speakers wait under umbrellas as Healdsburg Mayor David Hagele has his say.

Supervisor James Gore, who like McGuire is a life-long local, at once discounted the impact of the rain by shedding his jacket, then embraced it by saying, “I told myself during those days, and all of us did, that we would not complain when the rain came.”

Then he extrapolated on the greater importance of a wider region than just Healdsburg, pointing out that its location at the meeting place of two different climate zones “creates edge conditions here in Sonoma County. Microclimates for grapes, microcultures for people.”

Like McGuire before him, Gore was generous with praise for the agencies and individuals who worked on the project, from Land Paths, AG + Open Space, “working with City Council, with tribes, with county, with everybody, delivering, delivering Coastal Conservancy dollars through McGuire’s office…”

Summarized the supervisor, “It’s amazing how the details really are the magic, and how easy it is to walk away from things that are complex, but absolutely needed.”

The addition of Fitch Mountain Park and Open Space includes the remodeled Villa Dog Park, one of five in the city limits. A new wooden bridge spans the seasonal creek, just down from an ADA compliant path from the Villa parking lot, leading to the reconditioned trail toward the summit.

The 1.35 mile trail has an elevation gain of 604 feet from trailhead to summit, with an average grade of 9.4%. 

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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 2008, moving from Patch to the Sonoma Index-Tribune to the Kenwood Press before joining the Healdsburg Tribune in 2022.


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