Sonoma County

Park Ravaged by Kincade Fire Being Restored With Fire-Resilient Measures

A firefighter tends to a structure lost during the Kincade fire off Highway 128, east of Healdsburg, California on October 29, 2019.
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A popular Sonoma County regional park ravaged during the 2019 Kincade Fire is being rebuilt with the goal of deterring fire.

The Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation received a $500,000 Kaiser Permanente grant to renovate Foothill Regional Park, officials announced last week.

The fund will allow the parks agency to redesign the 211-acre park with "climate-adaptive" features to make it more resilient to future wildfires and offer greater protection to surrounding neighborhoods, county officials said.

"Many parks haven't been designed with fire in mind. Since we are all facing the same existential climate threat, we hope Foothill will become a model for the Western United States," said Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker.

In October 2019, the park was on the front lines to contain the Kincade wildfire and crews snaked miles of hoses through the park's woodlands and bulldozed fire breaks in its open spaces.

The efforts kept the fire from burning through adjacent neighborhoods and the town, but 95 percent of the park was burned or damaged. Four miles of trails, eight trail bridges and a 40-foot bridge that provides access to the park's back country were destroyed.

The new design with include more resilient construction materials and techniques, including replacing wooden retaining walls and footbridges with fire-proof materials like metal or stone, or replacing plastic culverts with metal ones.

The redesign also includes features that support firefighting, like buried water lines to enable fire crews to access water from the park's three ponds and redesigning some trails with cleared borders to accommodate fire truck or bulldozer access without damaging sensitive ecological and historical resources.

The grant will also support added community amenities in the park, including outdoor classrooms and gathering areas, an artistic entryway created by local students, and trail enhancements constructed by youth crews mentored by parks staff.

The ongoing work at the park is expected to last through October 2022.

More than 100,000 people visit Foothill Regional Park annually, a number on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, county officials said.

Supported by the grant, Sonoma County Regional Parks will employ local young adults in fire resilience projects, including trail construction and vegetation management, through its Career Pathways Youth Crew program.

Local students, mentored by artists, will be tapped to create the centerpiece of the park's redesigned entrance, celebrating the park's revival and community's healing.

Additionally, two new outdoor "classrooms" will create gathering spaces for future school field trips or community meetings and become venues for increasing wildfire awareness and environmental education.

The grant from Kaiser Permanente will be matched with $50,000 in individual donations to the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation for fire recovery, a $15,000 donation from the Rotary Club of Coronado and facilitated by the Rotary Club of Windsor, and revenue from the Measure M parks sales tax approved by Sonoma County voters in 2018.

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