The view of Fitch Mountain looming to the east of Healdsburg is as much a signature of the town as the Russian River itself, a natural landmark that defines the region. It’s a small wonder—its 991-foot altitude is no Everest or Denali, but as the Dude would say, it holds the town together.
Soon people can do more than just look up at it, but park at the improved trailhead, take a hike to the summit on a well-marked trail across two new footbridges, and look down on Healdsburg, the Russian River Valley, the Santa Rosa Plain and beyond.
That hike is possible now, though as locals know the view from the summit is partially obstructed by high vegetation growth. But an improved route would be welcome.
An expanded trail system, restroom facilities and picnic grounds are among the features that will begin improvements this fall, thanks in large part to a $1.5 million allocation from the state to the State Coastal Conservancy, a longtime financial partner in the Fitch Mountain Park and Preserve project.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s former Healdsburg High grad, Healdsburg City Council member and now State Sen. Mike McGuire who has secured the final $1.5 million needed to complete the trail system on iconic Fitch Mountain.
“We couldn’t be more excited to secure the funding that represents the final piece to the Fitch Mountain Park and Preserve puzzle,” said McGuire. “By next summer, hikers and dog walkers alike will have easier access to this gorgeous property, along with restrooms and an enhanced trail system to enjoy.”
Saving a Landmark
Healdsburg can thank Zelma Ratchford that the mountain slopes and summit are still forested. Starting in 1954, she began accumulating property on the mountain, describing her effort as her “Magnificent Obsession” to preserve the landmark.
Eventually, she accumulated 264 acres, most of which became the 173 acres that comprise the Fitch Mountain Park and Open Space Preserve, purchased by Sonoma County in 2014, which “encompasses the entire 991-foot peak of Fitch Mountain and most of its surrounding slopes.”
In his final year on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, in 2014, McGuire had a hand in the transfer of the property from private ownership to public. Now he has used his current leverage as Senate majority leader to make sure the funds are available for this hometown landmark.
“This project has been a passion of McGuire’s as he progressed through his political career, working with county’s Ag + Open Space to secure funding and negotiate purchase,” said Mark Themig, the city’s community services director. “And as he has moved into his state career, he has kept this on top of his priority list.”
The ambitious undertaking also owes a large debt to the City of Healdsburg, which allocated $1.2 million to match the state’s funding from Prop 68 Per Capita Grant program, Measure M funds and park impact fees. Two separate grants of $150,000 have also come from the Coastal Conservancy, first to fund the 2017 Fitch Mountain Park and Preserve management plan, and now to help kickstart the city’s financing, said Themig.
“I am excited to see this project in its final stages,” said Healdsburg Mayor Ozzy Jimenez. “We are thrilled Sen. McGuire was able to secure the funding to finish the infrastructure and trail system on Fitch Mountain.”
And Vice Mayor Ariel Kelley said: “Fitch Mountain is an incredible community resource, and I cannot wait to finally get this project completed so we can truly enjoy everything Fitch Mountain has to offer.”
The $1.5 million that McGuire secured has been transferred to the State Coastal Conservancy, a longtime financial partner in the Fitch Mountain Park and Preserve project. Those funds are now available to complete the project. Other partners include The Open Space District, LandPaths and the Fitch Mountain Fund, which is raising money for long-term stewardship of the property.
Plans for the Fitch Mountain Park and Preserve project include the two footbridges, erosion repairs and new trail connections, as well as improvements to the trailhead area at the lower parking lot of Villa Chanticleer. Those include flush toilets, ADA compliance and other upgrades to the dog park, as well as a new picnic area and improved parking.
The project will go out for a general contractor bid in the next few weeks, said Themig. “Construction will occur over the winter as the weather allows,” he said. “The installation of the trail bridge across the seasonal creek will likely be the last part of the project that will happen in early summer 2023, when the creek restrictions are lifted.”
Unfortunately a panoramic, 360-degree view from the summit is not part of the plans. “We’ve got some ability in the management plant to enhance the sightlines in a few places, but the focus is more on fire fuel reduction,” said Themig.
But as hikers know, the destination is the journey itself.