Since 2019 Sonoma County Parks and the Graton Rancheria have co-managed Tolay Lake Regional Park outside Petaluma. That interim agreement has been cemented for the next 20 years.
Tucked away at the end of a quiet lane off Lakeville Highway sits Tolay Lake. Though reduced from its original size after settlers in the 1850’s dynamited the natural levee at the lake’s southern end to clear part of the shallow lake for agricultural use, Tolay’s cultural significance to the Indians of the Graton Rancheria remains.
Tribal Vice Chair, Lorelle Ross:
"It has always been a sacred healing space for all native people and for all people, native and non-native alike to this day into the future, " Ross told County Supervisors.
The origins of the co-management agreement stretch back to the county’s 2005 acquisition of Cardoza Ranch, the property built upon Tolay. Melanie Parker with Sonoma County Parks explained co-management of the 3400-acre property:
"It looks like Parks Environmental educator, Kristin Suarez, working side by side with Tribal Monitor, Robin Meley and Cultural resource specialist, Matthew Johnson, to co-create a new curriculum and co deliver it to nearly 1000 local third, fourth, and fifth graders this fall," Parker said. "Co-management looks like...planning to restore cultural fire to Tolay."
Long before fences and barns went up at lake’s edge, Tolay served as a place for meeting and healing for indigenous Californians like the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo. Charmstones, used in ritual healing, have been found in abundance in Tolay Lake, some up to 4,000 years old.
County Parks Director Bert Whitaker said the permanent agreement is groundbreaking.
"This level of partnership is the first of its kind we're aware of in California between a local government like ourselves and a federally recognized tribe," Whitaker said.
Supervisor Chris Coursey noted just how far leaders have come in respecting native tribes.
"I think back to 35 years ago when the grand idea was for Santa Rosa to use Tolay Lake as a reservoir for the region's waste water, and I think in 35 years, I hope we've all gotten a lot smarter," Coursey said.