It’s not unusual to see people in wheelchairs or using a cane in Sonoma County’s many parks; they’re often with family or friends, moving together at a leisurely pace along a paved path. But I’ve also noticed much speedier wheelchair-bound athletes building up their pecs as they hand-propel their chair wheels forward on a paved trail.
Sonoma County’s parks, both state and regional, have done a fine job of providing accessible options to people with disabilities and special needs. Most of these parks offer a variety of accessible features that range from restrooms and picnic tables sized to accommodate a wheelchair to Braille exhibit signage. The need for such features is great, and getting greater.
According to the 2010 Census, 18.7 percent of the nation’s population is disabled to some degree. And many experts believe that this number is on the upswing.
“We need accessibility in the parks more than ever,” said accessible travel guru Candy Harrington, “because the population of disabled people is growing. For one thing, Baby Boomers are aging; they’ve always been active, but age can bring problems with limited mobility. Also, many wounded warriors are returning home. They’re young and used to being out and about. Put those two groups together, and there’s a huge need for accessibility.”
A long-time travel writer, Harrington has focused for 16 years on accessible travel. She’s the founding editor of an accessible travel newsletter, Emerging Horizons, and the author of five books about traveling with disabilities (including the classic Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers).
Harrington has a positive take on accessibility in Sonoma County’s parks.
“Sonoma County is doing good things,” she said. “I particularly like Armstrong Redwoods, where the Discovery Trail has been designed so that people with low vision can touch things — the bark of a redwood tree, for example — and experience the park in a different way. And certainly the state has done a wonderful job with accessible options; I’ve found their online information to be accurate and updated.”
Harrington points out that accessible features aren’t used only by people with disabilities.
“Take paved trails,” she said. “They make it easy for families with strollers or young children. That’s good, because everyone should be able to have a taste of the outdoors. Many places now offer accessible back-country sites, which give people more adventurous options.”
Here’s a look at accessibility in Sonoma County state and regional parks:
Accessibility in Sonoma County’s Regional Parks
- Paved Trails: Ernie Smith Community Park (El Verano), Maxwell Farms Regional Park (Sonoma), Ragle Ranch Regional Park (Sebastopol), Sonoma Valley Regional Park (Glen Ellen), Colgan Creek Trail (Santa Rosa), Hunter Creek Trail (Santa Rosa), Spring Lake Regional Park (Santa Rosa), West County & Joe Rodota Trails (Santa Rosa to Forestville via Sebastopol), Cloverdale River Park (Cloverdale), Gualala Point Regional Park (Gualala).
- Accessible Playgrounds: Maxwell Farms Regional Park (Sonoma), Ernie Smith Community Park (El Verano), Helen Putnam Regional Park (Petaluma), Larson Regional Park (Boyes Hot Springs), Maddux Ranch Regional Park (Santa Rosa), Ragle Ranch Regional Park (Sebastopol), Shaw Regional Park (Kenwood).
To learn about other accessible features, including gravel trails, group picnic areas, group camping areas, family camping areas, restroom facilities, river paths, beach wheelchairs, and more, visit this page.
Accessibility in Sonoma County’s State Parks
- Annadel State Park (Santa Rosa): Picnic area with two accessible tables. Also accessible portable restroom, one designated accessible parking spot. Learn more.
- Armstrong Redwoods SNR (Guerneville): Accessible picnic sites, visitors center, restrooms, parking. The paved Discovery Trail offers some features for those with visual impairments. Learn more.
- Austin Creek SRA (Guerneville): Accessibility is in the works for this park, but not yet a reality.
- Fort Ross SHP (Jenner): Accessibility in the visitors center, including exhibits. First floors of Rotchey House, Kuskov House, the barracks and the blockhouses are also accessible. Parking, restrooms also accessible. Read more.
- Jack London SHP (Glen Ellen): The House of Happy Walls visitors center and museum has a wheelchair lift at the rear of the building. Also accessible: portable restrooms, three parking spaces, paved route from parking lot to visitor center, and picnic sites. A golf cart driven by volunteers, the “Wolf House Express,” is available on weekends for visitors needing assistance. More information.
- Kruse Rhododendron SNR (Jenner): Accessibility is in the works for this park, but not yet a reality. Learn more.
- Petaluma Adobe SHP (Petaluma): The lower exhibit areas within the adobe are usable but not without challenges for wheelchair users (dirt floors with uneven surfaces, entry thresholds may be raised, etc.). Accessibility in designated parking areas, and a “generally accessible” chemical toilet. Read more.
- Salt Point State Park (Jenner): The coastal bluff trail is accessible for one-tenth of a mile. Also accessible: restroom and parking in Gerstle Cove Terrace lot. More Information.
- Sonoma Coast State Beach (extensive stretch of the Sonoma coastline): This state park encompasses a great many beaches, campgrounds, picnic areas and trails — each with its own set of accessible options. Some of the beaches offer beach wheelchairs (call 707-875-3483 for more info). To learn about many of those options, visit this page.
- Sonoma SHP (Sonoma): The park encompasses various buildings in the city of Sonoma, each with its own set of accessible options. You can learn more about the individual options by visiting this page.
- Sugarloaf Ridge SP (Kenwood): Accessible options here include three campsites, a picnic area, a portion of the Meadow Trail, restrooms, parking, the visitors center, and most of the Robert Ferguson Observatory. Read all about it.
Written by Sonoma Insider Suzie Rodriguez