Fans of the Dragoon Gulch Trail just outside of downtown Sonora will have something to look forward to in the new year with the opening of a 1.5-mile extension anticipated for completion in late January or early February.

Rachelle Kellogg, the city’s community development director, said work began last month on the long-planned $40,000 first phase of trail expansion. The project was delayed earlier this year to avoid disturbing nesting birds and roosting bats that would have created additional costs.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t have to expend the funding to pay for the environmental review as we were doing construction out there,” Kellogg said. “We don’t have a lot of money, so we’re trying to stretch that as far as we can.”

Funding comes from the community through a $25,000 grant from the Front Porch Communications Fund at the Sonora Area Foundation and $15,000 raised by the Foothills Leadership Academy.

The academy has hosted annual 5K runs at the trail for the past three years, with all of the proceeds dedicated to the expansion of the existing 2.5-mile loop. Kellogg said the goal is to have the 1.5-mile extension completed before this year’s run, which is typically held in February.

Kellogg said the new portion of trail will go farther west into the 67-acre property that the city purchased from Robert and Grace Cutler in 2004. It should feature a roughly 5-percent slope with a natural surface, similar to the existing one.

The trail was built in 2006 and 2007 on 35 acres of oak woodland that the city purchased from retired physician Audrey Glover in 2002 with the help of a $500,000 state grant. Between 75 and 100 people use the trail per day, according to city estimates.

Stanislaus National Forest trail crews are cutting the new trail as they did with the existing one. Inmate crews from the Baseline Conservation Camp are also helping with the project.

Kellogg said the portion of the trail under construction is closed to the public out of concern for safety.

Ultimately, the goal is to expand the trail farther into the Cutler property and connect to Racetrack Road. That next phase will be considerably more expensive because it will include a new parking lot, restrooms and entrance.

The Sonora City Council approved the first phase of the expansion in December 2016.

Dragoon Gulch was named after a cavalry of soldiers in the U.S. Army, known as dragoons, who mined the ravine for gold in early 1849.

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.