At 1:53pm on Wednesday, February 15, the almost imperceptible sound of an ink pad stamping occurred at a cramped title company office in San Rafael. That sound signaled escrow being closed on what had seemed would forever be an unobtainable goal for those laboring in Sonoma County's conservation field: preserving Bohemia Ranch from development and providing it for public use. It also closed a chapter of my life - as it did for several of our close partners - comprising fifteen months of near full-time work on an effort that had moments of both tranquility and high drama.
At this hour the keys to a sturdy but rusting gate were figuratively dropped from the hand of a family into the lap of a local nonprofit organization LandPaths. Behind that gate are fields of native flowers, arid cypress and manzanita rocky outcroppings, cool shaded creeks, views of what appear to be endless conifer forest on the entirety of the horizon line, and an absolutely sublime waterfall. This family, let's refer to them as 'Ted and Phyllis,' had taken in 1999 what was a near lawless refugia for offroad vehicles running up ridge and creeks - replete with massive erosion on ranch roads bleeding silt into streams that were on their last gasp to provide spawning habitat for coho salmon - and painstakingly restored ridge and meadow and road to what is today a largely healed wildscape that is home to pileated woodpeckers, ringtail cat, redwoods and a place for generations to come to camp beneath the fog-shrouded stars.
This was all accomplished through a conservation easement (extinguishing development and forever keeping the land intact) purchased by the Sonoma Land Trust with funds provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the near simultaneous donation by Ted and Phyllis of 554-acres to LandPaths. Pivotal to this partnership was the entrance of another family, let's call them 'Will and Julie,' that will share a part of the former 860-acre ranch as adjoining neighbors, partners in grassland, forest and creek restoration, and friends to public use that is respectful of the land.
To the North Bay's collective delight, there have been a number of these seemingly "unreachable" land conservation projects in the past 14 years that have ended in success. The Jenner Headlands, Tolay, Calabazas, Willow Creek and the signature landscape perched above Santa Rosa, Taylor Mountain. That we have skilled and well-funded public agencies (our Ag Preservation and Open Space District, Coastal Conservancy) and nonprofit partners ("SLT" and other local land trusts) operating in Sonoma County is one of the reasons that these lands have been purchased and, economy and other factors willing, open to the public. Let us hope that those that labor in - and in support of - local agriculture can count just as many farms that will stay thriving for another five generations on account of this work. The human spirit needs clean water, clean air and wildness, no doubt, but the body needs local food produced with respect to that water-air-soil as well.
The passing of the figurative keys to the gate of Bohemia Ranch (now Bohemia Ecological Preserve) to LandPaths is but the beginning of our long-term stewardship (as in, who owns who, the land or the nonprofit?) at this beautiful place. We at LandPaths have made a promise to take this land - the entire project happening without a single public dollar (!) - even without the funds necessary upfront to steward the land. We will stretch what we have, of course, but we will need the community's help in the form of sweat and labor on the land, legacy bequests great and regular financial gifts small to create the preserve that you consider a part of your greater backyard. We've embarked on this bold effort for you, with you and for both the flowers and the people that follow us.
~Craig Anderson, executive director, LandPaths