2017 marks the 50th Anniversary of Sonoma County Regional Parks, and the department is commemorating this milestone with a year of special hikes, outings and events. What started with only one park in 1967 – Doran Beach in Bodega Bay – has grown to over 11,000 acres in 56 parks, trails and beaches throughout Sonoma County, attracting more than 5 million visitors per year.
The past several years in particular the department expanded rapidly, with four new major parks and trails opening. Two of them, Taylor Mountain and North Sonoma Mountain, are in close vicinity to Rohnert Park’s Crane Creek Regional Park, expanding closer outdoor recreational opportunities for Rohnert Park, Cotati and Penngrove residents.
To help young people celebrate this big anniversary year, Sonoma County Regional Parks is presenting their new “Every 4th Grader in a Regional Park” initiative, offering every 4th grader and their families free day use parking at all regional parks for the entire month of June. So far, approximately 800 people have downloaded the certificate and the department is considering extending the program in future years, based on the public’s feedback.
“The reason why we chose the month of June is because we have a trails challenge program that we’ve been offering for a number of years now,” says Bethany Facendini, Community Engagement Manager for Sonoma County Regional Parks. “That program starts and ends in the month of June.”
The Regional Parks Department acquired the idea from a similar initiative the U.S. National Park Service implemented last year to celebrate their centennial anniversary. Research from the NPS showed that 4th grade is a pivotal time for exploring nature, and that positive outdoor experiences stay with children throughout their lives and inspire lifelong connection with nature and the environment.
Other anniversary celebration activities and events include a new hiking series, specialty walks, outings for families and other special events such as Dia de los Ninos and backpacking at North Sonoma Mountain. They are also incorporating the 50th theme into existing programs, like offering a 50-mile goal for the summer Trails Challenge.
Another new development the parks department implemented in the past few years is a “Wellness Membership” program, aimed at the corporate sector. The program allows local companies to offer their employees parks memberships through their corporate wellness programs, at a reduced cost of up to 20 percent off regular membership prices. Organizations can either buy memberships outright for employees, or buy memberships and partially stipend the costs for employees or make park memberships a reimbursable expense. There is no minimum number of memberships companies need to purchase to participate in the program, but the more they purchase, the bigger the discount per membership. Employees receive all the benefits of a traditional parks membership, including 12 months of parking at all regional parks, one night of camping, admission for four and parking to the Tolay Fall Festival, discounts on park events like the Spring Lake dog swims, and various savings and giveaways at local recreation providers and retailers.
For more information about special hikes, outings and events commemorating the 50th anniversary, visit the calendar on parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov.