Albion Monitor /Features

Two Worlds of Ragle Park

by Simone Wilson

Ragle Ranch is a Sonoma County Regional Park, but it functions like a city park for the town of Sebastopol, with manicured playing fields, picnic tables under massive oaks, volleyball and tennis courts and a calisthenics course. Joggers trot around the park to the beat of their Walkmans, kids in bright blue kneesocks tumble around the soccer field, and neighbors along Ragle Road harness up their rottweilers for early-morning strolls.

But down the hill is a very different Ragle Ranch, one you'd never suspect from the road. This park has a wide meadow and riparian corridors. It's a place of grasslands, willows, and, in the winter, a whole lot of mud and water.

Tracks in the mud record the cuneiform of deer, handprints of racoon

Atascadero Creek skirts the east side of the meadow, then flows north to meet Green Valley Creek, which empties into the Russian River near Forestville. Out in the meadow during winter, the water spreads out to give the lowland habitat a good soak. Mallards glide in for a noisy splash down, and herons stand guard at the verge of temporary ponds, hoping for a quick snack.

The park's 150-plus acres were once part of a ranch run by the pioneer Ragle family. Regional Parks created the park in 1976 and had the wisdom to leave much of it alone. Despite playground equipment and some picnic tables, the oak woodland near the parking lot remains largely unmanicured. Even more important, the marshy lowlands in the western half of the park return to seasonal inundation every winter.

Just now a hike in the meadow is less a walkabout than a slogabout. Late-winter rains flood the grasslands and turn the trail into pockets of squishy mud. Tracks in the mud record the passage of non-human visitors: cuneiform of deer, handprints of racoon.

Then there are people marks: the waffle imprints of Reeboks and hiking boots, the articulated snake-treads of mountain bikes. A sign warns visitors away from the southern end of the soggy meadow but there's no sign at the northern approach, even though it's just as mired in seasonal muck.

And muck has its enthusiasts. As I slosh along trying to follow the drowned path, a lone mountain biker skooshes by and deliberately pedals into the deepest part of the bog. A bulky teenager with spattered T-shirt and mud streaks up his bare arms, he finally he bogs down altogether and hops off into the water, wading toward higher ground.

In drier seasons, joggers and dog-owners frequent the trail around the meadow, but nobody suggests draining the basin or altering the trail to make it more useable year-round. And because Sonoma County Regional Parks has left Ragle alone to do its seasonal thing, the lowland landscape is one that its original inhabitants, the Konhomtara Pomo, would recognize, says Sonoma State anthropologist Adrian Praetzellis.

The Konhomtara lived comfortably here on the east side of Atascadero Creek for as long as 50 centuries. Until white settlers disrupted their way of life, starting in the 1840's, they also inhabited the much vaster floodplain of the Laguna de Santa Rosa around present-day Sebastopol. Take a walk through Ragle and you'll get a hint of the rich and varied habitat that sustained them.

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Albion Monitor March 30, 1996 (

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