LandPaths' Happenings Blog

Owl Campers Find New Ways to Connect with the Land

Owl Campers join Camp Leader Richard "Mapache" in song, sitting inside a traditional tipi that they raised themselves.

This year, Owl Campers joined together to raise a traditional tipi near the organic garden. The tipi was designated is as a safe place, a place for sharing stories and leaving your troubles just outside the door. 

Campers gathered inside the tipi for morning circle and songs when the weather was chilly.  The cozy, communal enclosure made for some of the most enjoyable, heartfelt, extended song circles in Owl Camp history. Apprentices (older campers taking on leadership roles) gathered small groups of younger campers inside the tipi for brief, nature-based "lessons," and kept their audiences spellbound. Two very energetic young campers, Kevin Kingsnake and Daniel Duck disappeared for a short while during free time one day.  They were found in the tipi, respectfully and attentively fixing and adding fresh flowers to the cardinal direction altar in the middle of the circle.  

Owl Camp offers a safe space where youth are 
encouraged to try on new ideas and take part in new experiences.  Within the tipi, campers were introduced to a sense of reverence, a respect for quiet and ancient tradition. Kevin Kingsnake and Daniel Duck took these concepts to heart.  

As Owl Campers work together to construct a tipi, to build a traditional, ceremonial drum, as they learn the basics of navigating a canoe or splash in creek swimming holes shared by steelhead fry, as they camp out for the first time alongside youth from all walks of life, they are building a connection to land that will only grow deeper in the years to come.

With the gracious support of the following donors, this year LandPaths raised $20,113 for Owl Camp tuition and transportation scholarships – exceeding our goal of $20,000! With those funds we provided 48 tuition scholarships to Owl Camp (nearly 40% of our camper body!) and a daily van service from Roseland each week for those campers most in need.  We extend our gratitude to these donors for their help in ensuring that Owl Camp remains an opportunity available to ALL SONOMA COUNTY children year after year, regardless of socio-economic hurdles, and that our camper body is a true reflection of everyone who lives here in Sonoma County. 

Many thanks to the following 2014 Owl Camp Donors: 

A special thanks to William H. Hurt Foundation and Amy's kitchen for their generous donations!  We'd also like to thank

Calpine Corporation, Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary Club, WLW Investment Trust, Jedd Parker, Alicia Nourse, Amy Booth, Andrea Record, Annette Musson, Arlene Weis, Clair Buck Werner, Craig Meltzner, Dante Benedetti, Forrest Jang, Gretchen Braren, James R. Greene, Jennifer Greene, Joan Hackeling, John W. Knight, Dan Nuebel, Lee McCarthy-Smith, Craig Anderson, Meg Porter Alexander, Marc Alexander, Margaret Hamill, Meg Beeler, Thomas Tersch, Jane M. Witkowski, Mirin Lew, Patricia Butler, Paula Hackeling, Richard Radcliffe, Sue Kavinoky, Rose Frances, Sophia hicks, Spring Maxfield, Steve Meacham, Steve Harper, Theresa Kelley, Tracy Mattson, Barbara Smoak, Donna Greer, Karen Thompson, Lee Hackeling, Abigail Zoger,& many anonymous donors!



Posted at 09:36

Directors View - On the Passing of Big City Doc, Humanist and Cowboy Dr. Tom R. Russell


There are people who pass through our lives, whether briefly or spanning a number of years, who cause us to pause, to listen, to remember, and ultimately to try to be better people.  Dr. Tom (“Tommy”) Russell is one of those people. 

In the rugged backcountry of Southern California’s Sespe Wilderness - the place that the National Park Service takes “bears for relocation” because these rugged sycamore and chemise canyons are remote and vast in area - sits a small rock cabin without a front door.  The doorway remains open, a hand-polished hearth directly across the floor one could easily imagine Will Rogers sitting beside, welcoming the hiker, the equestrian or mountain biker needing a roof over their head for the night.  Like all places in California’s outdoors, the unique blend of light, aromas, color, breeze and textures gives a person the feeling of being in their body, being at home.   

Outside the door of this sturdy stone dwelling, known as ‘Patton’s Cabin’, amidst the huge white boulders emblematic of this part of the transverse range of coastal California, stand several hitching posts that have been used by young people since the early 1900’s.  This cabin provided sanctuary in a particularly hard, sustained winter rain in 1989 to a small group of teen hikers that I was leading on a weeklong backpack trip from a high school from over the ridge in Ventura County’s Ojai Valley.  It’s here 30 years earlier that Tom Russell as a lanky teen from San Francisco took care of a horse – as all students at the Thacher School are required to do – and it in turn clearly took care of him.  As Tom’s wife Nona related recently to me, the founder of Thacher School no doubt would have said, "There was something about the outside of a horse that was good for the inside of Tom Russell." 

Tommy On HorseTom went on to work a dude ranch in the summer in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley as a 15 year-old, returning the following year as head wrangler.  An axiom to those in outdoor education – arguably to anyone involved with youth and who trusts in the development of beings when allowed to be in nature – is that time spent outdoors can and does inspire youth in developing courage, leadership, compassion and focus.   This kid had focus. 

On the surface, Tommy was a highly successful Doctor of regional and national importance, the Executive Director of the American College of Surgeons, a flight surgeon serving in Vietnam and a man in his 70’s who stood ramrod straight and beamed a warm smile.  Tom’s motto, "Take the stairs, be nice to the janitor, and the patient comes first" was abundantly clear to me not just as a well-intended credo from a gentleman, but as an ethos to live by when I was fortunate to visit with him over the past six years.  Tom was - and remains – a cherished uncle to dear friends of ours from Healdsburg that have shared with my family numerous occasions to be part of their family, over harvest meals outdoors, camping in orchards in the Anderson Valley and at events in support of clean food, progressive candidates and human rights.  On these occasions Tommy, seemingly without effort, eschewed his significant accomplishments in medicine and his public stature.  Without grandchildren of his own, Tommy seemed to truly delight in the attention our daughter heaped on him and his beloved Border collie, Speedy.  On one occasion, Speedy got startled with all the activity at a party and gave our daughter, Iris, enough of a nip to draw a little blood.  Tom was horrified by this, but Iris soon after – in an email exchange – took to allaying his remorse. 

"dear speedy, I wish that I could see you soon. It's okay that you got a little cited - I get cited too. P.s., what I do when I'm cited is I go into a different room, and I make sure my teeth stay together.   I hope you have fun and I'll see you soon. From Iris" 

After a battle with a particularly lethal form of cancer, Tom passed away from us peacefully at his ranch in Philo earlier this month, in the very spot on earth that in part sculpted his life.  Dr. Russell had been able, you see, to buy up – and preserve in its beautiful California cowboy rusticity, wildness and beauty – a ranch overlooking ridge upon ridge of bear and lion, owl and warbler, salmon and madrone comprising the drainages feeding the Navarro River and a number of unnamed tributaries.  His years at Thacher School – in the dining room where his name still adorns the wall as ‘outstanding camper of his class’ - and in the Anderson Valley helped to create an ethic of taking care of people, being a friend and working partner with animals and loving the open landscape. 

To recollect on the life of a truly noble human being is important, but it’s just as vital and timely to now ask, “Who are the Tom Russells-in-waiting of today?”  Young women and men of promise, whether they be First Nation, white or Latino, black or multi-ethnic, from north county or west, from homes of means or humble backgrounds.  What are we doing to encourage these young people to live their lives with purpose, and with strong ties to the land that uplifts us all, and shows us all correctly to be as equals? 


-Craig Anderson, LandPaths Executive Director, August 28th, 2014

Posted at 12:06

A Year in the Field with Inspired Forward

Students from Marce Becerra Academy in Healdsburg experienced many "firsts" on their final outing with theLandPaths' Inspired Forward Program at Rancho Mark West: sitting alone in silent reflection in the forest, catching fish, as well as eating grilled vegetables on top of their hamburgers! 

Throughout the year, these high school students spent four days with LandPathsat various open spaces around Sonoma County - working to improve a landscape by pulling French Broom at Riddell Preserve, learning survival skills with Weaving Earth at Healdsburg Ridge, cooking slow meals together in the field and breaking a sweat while hiking the trails at Rancho Mark West (one trail newly built this year by Hermanitas-MANA - another group of Inspired Forward students). When asked on this final field day, how they'd want to help steward the land moving forward, the answer from Marce Becerra was clear: They wanted to build a trail, too!
In response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, LandPaths immediately initiated Inspired Forward, a program geared towards (re)connecting teenagers with their local landscapes, encouraging exercise and healthy food, while engaging in an ongoing dialogue about true leadership, citizenship and a vision for a positive future.  Now in its third year, the Inspired Forward program works with three distinct teen groups- Marce Becerra Academy, Roseland Accelerated Middle School and Hermanitas-MANA. Next yearLandPaths plans to expand the program to include at least five groups.  
LandPaths is currently securing funding to allow us to build the capacity, partnernships and infrastructure to successfully implement and refine the program.  Please click here to make a donation to Inspired Forward.



Posted at 09:28

Free Lunch Outdoors, All Summer Long

Free Lunch Outdoors, All Summer Long

Free Lunch Kids Steward Bayer FarmAfter eating their lunch, these kids lend a hand stewarding Bayer Farm.

The Summer Free Lunch Program for youth at Bayer Farm is once again underway. Every weekday, all summer long, any young person has an opportunity to spend the entire afternoon outside on the land - participating in a free, shared meal, unstructured play, physical exercise, organic gardening, health education, summer reading and a vibrant community of all ages - at no cost.  

After a hot lunch provided by Redwood Empire Food Bank (and served under the shade of a walnut tree), children and families are invited to linger and enjoy the land - to help steward the community gardens, pick berries, and learn about health and outdoor access opportunities from visiting agencies and organizations such as Regional Parks and the Center for Well Being. Parents offer story time and the Bookmobile is parked with free books for kids.  On July 15ththe Imaginists will present their "Art is Medicine" show at Bayer Farm during the lunch hour.  

Thanks to a core group of a dozen Bayer Farm volunteers, working alongside LandPaths Staff and the Redwood Empire Food Bank, hundreds of kids and their families are reaping the mental and physical benefits of spending a bulk of each day outdoors and sharing a meal amongst friends, all summer long. 

The Free Lunch Program is offered Monday - Friday from 12pm-1pm at Bayer Farm in Roseland - 1550 West Ave.  Youth 18 and under are invited to receive a free, hot meal through August 8th. For the first time this year, parents are also welcome to receive a free lunch on Fridays as long as they are accompanying their child.

If you are interested in presenting during the Summer Free Lunch Program, please contact Omar Gallardo for more information.

LandPaths depends upon community support in order to offer a wide breadth of community-enriching programs at Bayer Farm.Please click here to donate. 

Posted at 09:27

In Our Own Backyard - Nature Immersion for Youth...and Parents!

In Our Own Backyard - Nature Immersion for Youth...and Parents!

Fanny And Forest Friends

Parent Chaperone Fanny Falcon stands with her son Jeremy and three classmates from Waldo Rohnert Elementary School, proudly showing off "Bob," a Native Hazelnut the group planted as part of their Stewardship Day at Jacob's Ranch with the In Our Own Backyard Program (IOOBY).  

Fanny Falcon and her son's class "adopted" Jacob's Ranch (the Sonoma Mountain North Slope,  soon to become an open Regional Park) for the entire school year.  Over the course of four themed visits, the group discovered Pacific Giant Salamanders living in the headwaters of Matanzas C
reek, planted native understory in the redwood grove, and trekked up to the open grasslands and the "Umbrella Tree" where expansive views knock the socks off even the most avid Sonoma County hiker.  "You could fly off this mountain!" said one student, when seeing the view for the first time.  Another was nearly speechless and simply said:  "Whooa." 

At the end of the year, and on her last visit to Jacob's Ranch, Fanny Falcon wrote the following note about her experience with the IOOBY Program: 

"This has been one of the most amazing field trips I ever shared with my son Jeremy.  I learned a lot, even though I missed the first hike. I really want to do this more often with my family and friends. Take it as an invitation!" 

The In Our Own Backyard Program can be a life-altering experience for hundreds of Sonoma County children each year - as it offers them a unique opportunity to connect deeply over time with a protected property near where they live.  That this transformative experience, in the case of Fanny and Jeremy, has leaped beyond the individual student, and into the family sphere, is another success for LandPaths.

LandPaths recognizes family as a critical shaper of life-long habits - influencing everything from the food we eat to how we spend our hard-earned free time.  LandPaths enhances family experiences by bringing them outdoors with IOOBY (and many other family-oriented programs) 
to explore and connect with the land where we live. 

In Our Own Backyard brings nearly 1,000 children and over 150 Parent Volunteers outdoors each year, over the course of four, full-day field trips - truly adopting a protected property through learning and stewardship. Opportunities abound for these students and families to take that "next step" into the great outdoors with LandPaths - be it through returning to their adopted property on their own, signing up for Owl Camp, participating in our Family Outings series, obtaining a Willow Creek Permit, or even becoming a volunteer. 

We accept your invitation, or challenge, Fanny, to continue offering innovative opportunities for everyone to find and pursue their own connection to Sonoma County's Big Outside.  And in turn invite you (all of you) to join us, and see what happens!


Click here for more information about the LandPaths' In Our Own Backyard Program.

Click here for information on the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District - generous supporters of Waldo Rohnert and many other 
Sonoma County schools who visit Open Space protected properties with the In Our Own Backyard Progam.

Click here for more information on Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Posted at 09:18
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