Even though LandPaths has been working this past ten years to reach out in an authentic and heartfelt way to the diversity that is Sonoma County - to those historically left out of the benefits that come from conservation work and with having parklands near where they live.
Even though we have envisioned, built and run the Bayer Farm and Gardens in Roseland this past six years – as a place of hope in partnership with the City of Santa Rosa and the people of Roseland,
Even though we have provided for the past 14 years a place-based, multi-visit environmental education program for nearly 1000 students per year – many of them from Latino families,
Even though this is all true we have realized there is so much more work to do. In fact, in the face of the gun violence that took so many innocent lives at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December of last year I penned a letter stating on our website, in effect,
“LandPaths must and will do more for our youth, that they have the chance to be touched by the power of land and connection to it and both the opportunity to be young and outdoors but the responsibility to help care for it, and we will do this as an Community-based Organization that uses the connection of people to land as a means for bettering both land and people.
Even though this challenge was made and LandPaths staff responded this year by piloting a program entitled Inspired Forward connecting teens from urban and challenged backgrounds to the outdoors through leadership development, healthy food and service to the land, there is still more to do.
If we as a conservation organization have learned anything from working more closely with the Latino Community this past six years it is the following four things:
1. We are most likely to succeed when we arrive with a PURPOSE but not a fully-formed PLAN. The development of programs and infrastructure to provide people access to land must be done in partnership, and with the input of those being ‘served.’
2. Consistency, expressed in just showing up and then continuing to show up over the long-term in order to be in relationship
3. Volunteers and community members being served respond positively to the dignity of responsibility. Everyone needs a role, to be entrusted with adding value to a thing larger than themselves.
4. LandPaths can’t change anyone or anything unless IT is willing to change from within. This has included having 3 staff of our 15 staff members who are bilingual and bicultural. It has also included the LandPaths board of directors to include people from an increasing diversity of cultural backgrounds, points of view and age.
Ultimately, we ALL can do this – attempt to address a tragedy with both hope and gritty determination to help our community heal. We have so much going for us; Luther Burbank referred to our county as the chosen place. With one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, the highest volunteerism rate in California, farms stands and farmers markets, a tax dollar-funded mechanism for protecting lands wild and working, greenbelt and as parks, with people spanning the continuum of the human situation from gay to straight, conservative to liberal, young and old and speaking a minimum of 14 languages and a beautiful spectrum of color of skin, we can do this.
It will take work, and it will take love. Above all it will take listening and rolling up our sleeves and being willing to get down to work, together.
16 years from when LandPaths and other partners first began work on this project, the 1.3-mile, East Slope of the Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, extending from Jack London State Park, passing over numerous privately held tracts of land, and offering expansive views of the Sonoma Valley and San Francisco Bay, has at long last, been approved.
Since its inception in 1996, LandPaths has found its relevance and obligation in seeking out unprecedented solutions to provide for public access and the public good. In November of 1997, Craig Anderson strategized and signed an agreement with the McCrea Family to plan for, design and build a trail across their family land.
It was land that the District had just preserved forever and the agreement was heralded as one of only a handful in the county to link public parks with a trail access across private land. This was the beginning of what has now been approved as the East Slope of the Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail.
LandPaths received grants for the project and actually completed construction upon the stretch of trail over the McCrea property. However, months prior to the trail opening, the McCrea property was sold and lawyers discovered that the paperwork granting the county an easement had never been completed, allowing the new buyer to reject the trail, even though it was already under construction.
LandPaths and other partners pursued nearly a decade of legal action with these new owners, steadfast in our mission to find creative solutions that will get the people of Sonoma County outside and connecting with their local landscape. Over these years, Craig spent many hours in the field, deepening relationships with landowners and keeping the vision of this trail alive. This time spent face to face, with boots on the ground, eventually resulted in new agreements that led to this week's final approval.
LandPaths is delighted to witness this fantastic movement forward. Final approval to begin construction (again) on the East Slope of Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail demonstrates a willingness by private landowners to work together with local and state agencies and local nonprofits in the name of the public good.
Making that 4th of July sunset climb to the crest of Taylor Mountain Regional Park's first grassy knoll, spreading a blanket and being rewarded with what may be the best fireworks show in town, is now an Independence Day tradition for hundreds ofSonoma County, CA residents - spanning all ages and cultures.
LandPaths' pivotal role at Taylor Mountain came to a close when Regional Parks officially took over on March 1, 2013. Or so we thought! We received so many requests for the July 4th event, that Regional Parks, the Open Space District and LandPaths declared this outing back by popular demand.
LandPaths is incredibly proud of our legacy at Taylor Mountain. Since 2006, we provided over 100 creative outings to Taylor Mountain, including ample bilingual and Spanish language opportunities. In 2010 we implemented one of our signature interim access programs to get you out to the Mountain on your own and when you want. Nearly 3,000 permits later, in both English and Spanish, and three years before the Mountain became a Regional Park, you got to explore this place. During orientations, outings and community outreach, we assisted in getting the word out for the Master Plan Process - so you could add your input and insight to the future Regional Park.
The BIG story in Taylor Mountain is three local conservation groups working together - the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District who spent a decade buying the parcels of land that now make up Taylor Mountain, LandPaths who provided bilingual access to the Mountain and community engagement during the planning process, and Sonoma County Regional Parks, who took over ownership of the land and opened the gates for the long term. This 4th of July we celebrated our nation's birthday, and an exemplary partnership serving the public good.
As planned, LandPaths happily worked ourselves out of a job as interim access provider, and Taylor Mountain, right outside the city center, is now a 1,000-acre community jewel.
Free Lunch is back again this year for nearly 100 kids each weekday all summer at Bayer Farm in Roseland. Redwood Empire Food Bank provides a hot meal, LandPaths provides an outdoor gathering place for eating and playing, robust volunteer assistance, and nature-based and health programming. Free lunch is offered at Bayer Farm to youth 18 and under, Monday-Friday 12:15-1:15pm through August 9th.
At the heart of Bayer Farm's Free Lunch program is a group of 15 neighborhood volunteers who are stepping up to be a key part of this six-acre, people-powered farm-park. And they do not stop at lunch! After eating, kids and families gather for crafts, gardening, free-play, or to learn about local park access, recycling, water conservation and nutrition from visiting partners- Regional Parks,Northern California Center for Well-Being and C2 Alternative Services.
Each year, more folks are choosing Bayer Farm for their Free Lunch site. Maybe it is what these volunteers are contributing.
Alongside a hot meal, kids and families are offered something just as vital as lunch - a chance to meet mentors and gather with community, an opportunity to spend time "unplugged" outdoors each day, to have fun, relieve stress, and learn new skills.
LandPaths is proud of our volunteers. This dedicated group at Bayer Farm is establishing a connection to the land and the community, while taking the time to reach out and spread the word to neighbors and friends. Thank you!
Please contact us by clicking here if you are interested in presenting at the Free Lunch program.