Tuesday, December 5, 2023



Volunteers help bring life back to Northern CA state park

Photo: Darryl Bush/The Press Democrat

The value of volunteers cannot be overstated, especially in the rejuvenation of Northern California’s Sugarloaf Ridge State Park where volunteers lugged three 600- to 700-pound redwood beams up and down a steep trail to lay them across a gully near the headwaters of Sonoma Creek. That’s when you begin to understand the old maxim about how “nonprofits are only as strong as their volunteers.”

Last weekend, Sugarloaf officially celebrated its rebirth with a ceremony and fundraiser more than a year after fires burned more than 80 percent of its 4,000+ acres. Flames destroyed four houses on the property, along with six bridges, multiple benches and 20 retaining walls supporting trails along severe inclines. It felled more than 50 trees over 20 miles of trails that had to be cleared. The reconstruction would never have been possible without a dedicated network of volunteers and donors, reported The Press Democrat.

“The rebuilding cost us around $80,000 or so, but if we had contracted all of it out, without the volunteer labor and access to all this wood, it would have likely cost around $400,000 to $500,000,” said John Roney, park manager for the past six years, since the Sonoma Ecology Center took over daily operation of the state park. Most of the $80,000 for reconstruction came from donations: $35,000 from California State Parks Foundation, $48,000 from the Sonoma Community Foundation, along with several $5,000 private donations from families.

On Oct. 8, the night the Nuns fire ignited last year, Roney quickly evacuated staff and more than 50 campers in the park.

Park staff was allowed back in to start rebuilding in late December, around the same time grass began to sprout from the charred black earth after the first rains.

Before the fires, around 15 volunteers would typically pitch in twice a month. After the fires, 20 to 40 volunteers arrived more frequently, many of them carpenters and builders, showing up twice a week for the first month, and then once a week after that.

Several more waves of volunteers arrived for corporate workdays. St. Francis Winery brought a small army of 80 volunteers one day and bought $10,000 in needed supplies. Kenwood Winery sent around 80 people as well. Levi Strauss Co. sent 40 employees from San Francisco on a service day to do trail work.

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