Fair and Just Access to our Coastal Commons
Land Partners Through Stewardship – or LandPaths as it’s better known – was founded in 1997 to manage access and stewardship at a new addition to a State Park unit here in Sonoma County. At the time we were told that this was the first and only partnership for management of a State Park by a nonprofit in California, save for a historic flower garden in downtown Santa Barbara.
Our management of this new 1100-acre park in 1997 – followed soon after by the 3400 acre Willow Creek addition to Sonoma Coast State Park for a period of ten years – was only possible because of at first dozens, and then hundreds, of volunteers powering our work on the ground. In this equation of energized volunteers plus nonprofit organization, we did not treat our public lands as though they belonged to agencies headquartered a two-hour drive away. We treated them, and still do to this day, as The Commons that belongs to us all. People take action - people take care of - those things that they feel a kinship for. In Sonoma County – there is a deep kinship with the mosaic of working landscapes and wildlands that comprise our home, our place.
In the summer of 2007 LandPaths decided to do something besides pointing the finger at government in order to address the disconnect between people of color and the region’s parks. We envisioned and built a 2½-acre urban park that looks and functions like a working farm in downtown Santa Rosa. Eight years later the Bayer Farm has been featured in magazine articles, documentary films and heralded as a model at countless conferences across the country. More importantly, it has gained LandPaths a semblance of trust by groups of people long forgotten by the conservation movement. The farm gives people from 14 different languages, Vietnam Vets and urbanites looking for a relationship with soil, the chance to farm, break bread and engage in dialogue together outside in a shared commons.
If the Bayer Farm brought us relevance in the Latino and other communities consistently underserved by the simple equation of access to land equals health, it has been our program – Inspired Forward – that has brought our work increasing relevance to addressing health and wellness to Youth in the past four years.
On March 23 a group of Inspired Forward teens finished a four-day walk from Monte Rio to the Sonoma Coast across lands public and private by permission, camping and eating local farm foods and never stepping into a vehicle for the 20-mile journey. Two of these students – from park-underrepresented households, themselves US Citizens and 4.0 students – had never seen the ocean until they topped out on the coastal ridge. Are these not part of the palette of young people that reflect our county, our promise, our future of engaged citizenry inspired by the land and water that is the foundation of all of our social, economic and biotic capital? Do we want to create yet another barrier for access to the beauty that is Sonoma County?
We at LandPaths are passionate about fair access to land for the betterment of the long-term sustaining of natural systems and human communities. Through time-tested and strong partnerships with our County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and State Coastal Conservancy, LandPaths has pioneered public access for tens of thousands of people in the past 19 years. And because of these partnerships, in addition to the dedication of volunteers across the cultural and socio-demographic spectrum, and buoyed by contributions from school children’s penny-drives and family foundations alike, we’ve provided this access for free.
Perhaps the powers that be in the State of California should think yet again about allocating funding for State Parks, so that it isn’t placed into a position where it feels the need to place a fee on such an elemental California experience, of standing by the shoreline and inhaling the wind off the Pacific.
LandPaths has been transformed for the better by the inclusion of all people across the spectrums of ethnicity, education, gender identity, economic well-being and life experience.
Perhaps more than any other of California’s fifty-eight counties, Sonoma is defined in large part by the raw beauty of its landscape, its flora and fauna, its wildlands and working landscapes. Please help us to insure that all people are welcomed - regardless of abundance or paucity of pocket change - to stand above the ocean bluff or walk on the sand and savor what is great about our county and country.
"There is no way that I could ever put this experience into words to describe it to my parents. It would take weeks and months. The only way to get them to understand, would be to take them out here too." -Inspired Forward TrekYouth Participant
This past week, 11 Sonoma County teens trekked 20 miles over four days, from LandPaths’ Bohemia Ecological Preserve to Shell Beach, as part of LandPaths Inspired Forward program. During the trek, they foraged for Black Trumpet mushrooms that they later ate for breakfast, made tea out of fir tips and nettles, participated in a stewardship project and cooked their fresh veggies over an open fire while sharing stories, songs and a whole lot of laughter.
While nature does most of the work, people are important to the process. Tremendous thanks to Freddie Sanchez, a local chef who met the group and cooked them a meal, to Socorro Shiels – Director of Education for the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence– who came out and talked with the group on Monday night. Thanks to Westminster Woods for allowing the group to take shelter on Monday Night with only two hours notice, as it was pouring rain and too wet to camp. Thanks to Bay Area Wilderness Training for loaning the gear for this trip. Thanks to Community Action Partnership and the North Bay Organizing Project. And finally many thanks to the Sonoma County Health Services Department for the three-year grant that has helped to bring hundreds of local teens on Inspired Forward field trips, and to all LandPaths’ supporters whose donations help to complete the funding needed for this program.
Love was in the air at our Grove of Old Trees this past weekend as neighbors from across Sonoma County gathered as we have for 15 years, at the Grove’s annual workday. Folks from 10 to 70-something mulched trails, replanted barren areas with sword fern, improved drainage to the trail system beneath the 1,000 year-old trees, trees spared from the axe in September, 2000, and removed about 400 feet of fencing to allow for better wildlife passage. Under the direction of Friends of the Grove (or FOG) President Michael Johnston and LandPaths stewardship coordinator Erin Mullen, volunteers beat the morning chill with physical exertion, laughter and – later at a friend and neighbors’ home across the lane – chili served in front of a warm hearth. At this time of year I am profoundly grateful for the community that continually steps forward to help LandPaths care for the land.
Before ending on a note of Gratitude, I am impelled to reflect on the week’s global news - the recent horror in Paris - as it stands in relief to the true and immutable work of LandPaths. This ‘actual work’ lies just beneath the surface of our programs for all people, from urban farming, to educational outings for kids throughout the year, and nature immersion for adults on outings and Treks. That is, we at LandPaths hold that time spent together on the land helps the land, and helps humans individually and collectively heal as much, if not more, than the nature being tended or protected.
I think it important to note what we believe is the impact that LandPaths’ daily work has in addressing one of the roots of violence: marginalization of people. Through stewardship days and access to the beauty of nature, where all people are welcomed and given the chance to make a difference regardless of skin color, age or socioeconomic standing, being respected and learning about their soil, sinking their own sense of belonging – we witness great things weekly! May our nation and our world, at this difficult time of grieving also express Thanksgiving for the time spent outside tending to both nature and to the human condition.
Finally, I express my own Thanksgiving for all of those who responded to our recent $30,000 ‘Reduce our Carbon Footprint’ challenge match so generously led by Will and Julie Parish. We are now able to reduce the paper - handling and staff time associated with a larger end-of-year mailing by virtue of the gifts we received. we are most grateful for you and the work behind and what still lies ahead. Thank You.