Ag + Open Space grant will create more recreational use access

Earlier this month, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and Sonoma County Ag + Open Space awarded a $1 million grant to the City of Healdsburg for a project that will create recreational use access to the Russian River from Badger Park on Heron Drive.

The dollar-to-dollar match grant was awarded during the Nov. 13 county board of supervisors meeting and will help city planners work towards their long-term vision of creating more connected access to the river from the park, other city paths and the downtown area of Healdsburg.

“This will provide new access to the Russian River from Badger Park and will allow the city to create a point of access from the park. Badger Park has these absolutely stunning, huge white oak trees in the riparian area and it will just be wonderful for people to see the natural beauty of the area,” said Bill Keene, general manager of Sonoma County Ag + Open Space.

The grant system, which has been around since the group’s inception in 1990, will be used as a match towards other city funds that are allocated to the project from the city’s capital improvement program.

The city applied for the grant earlier this year after the community services department recognized a new energy among residents around wanting to focus on the importance of the river in the community, according to Mark Themig, community services director.

“We have not celebrated the river and focused on it as an asset to the area as much,” he said. “We celebrated the bridge being completed over the river, but not on the fact that it is a great amenity for our residents.”

Themig said before applying the city considered applying for different projects; however, the grant applications guidelines were strict and the grant could only be used for new services, land acquisition or open space land.

“We thought we would focus on river access,” Themig said, adding that the community services department has been talking about this as a project “for years now.”

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Path

New path forward -- The grant money will work to create safe access to the river.

Keene said Ag + Open Space first contemplated only accepting grants for projects that were located in fire burn areas; however, too few were submitted.

“We didn’t get that many applicants for that, but we did get a lot of other great applications for projects such as the Badger Park project,” Kenne said.

Keene says this particular project will be good for the city as there are not too many river access points in the middle of town.

At the river’s bend there is a small access point at Del Rio Woods and of course there’s Veterans Memorial Beach off of Old Redwood Highway, yet this new point will be closer to town.  

“Badger Park has about 1,000 feet of river frontage and there is currently no authorized access, there are self made trails, but we want to create actual (safe) access,” Themig said.

While the project is still in the very early stages of conception, Themig said the access would most likely include a sustainable trail, bathroom facilities and a place for people to fish or launch kayaks.

He added that the access point will not be used for swimming, but for these other recreational uses.

The 11-acre park currently has a walking-trail, community garden, dog park and a kids play structure.

The grant will be going towards this one endeavor; however, Themig said this will be a part of two other park expansion projects the city is currently working on.

“This project is part of three different projects that we will start the planning process for at the first of the year. The first is planning a park for the Montage Apartments, the second is the Badger Park beach access and the third piece is working on connectivity between open spaces, schools and the Plaza,” Themig said.

Themig said a lot of inspiration for these projects came from former planning commissioner, Kent Mitchell, calling him a “champion” for creating river access.

He also cited Fourth District Supervisor, James Gore for his passion for the river and his support for the project. During the Nov. 13 meeting, Gore said he wanted to help with the project as much as he could.

Since the project hasn’t started yet, the date of completion is far down the road.

Themig said it may take six to 12 months to plan the project. “My hope would be that construction could start by the summer of 2020,” he said.

Themig said overall of the project, “It is really exciting that this has become a priority. I think this access will serve as a really nice component to the park and will serve as a legacy for the city to enjoy.”

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