Celebrating 25 Years of Hope in Action

Fostering a Love of the Land Since 1996

LandPaths was founded to connect the people who live, work, and play in Sonoma County to nature in expansive, creative, educational, and inspiring ways. We’ve grown and evolved. We’ve stayed true to this vision. And we’ve been unwavering in the core beliefs in equitable access to nature and that stewarding the land together builds a stronger, healthier community. 

A quarter of a century later, LandPaths is a leader and a trailblazer, in Sonoma County and beyond.

You can be proud of these accomplishments. LandPaths reached these milestone because of your participation, however that looks! You brought us here, and you will help us shape the next 25 years.

Reflections from the Community

Throughout 2021, we talked with LandPaths’ community members from across the last 25 years. Click on the interviews to read and explore!

1996 – 2021: 25 Years of
Milestones, Growth, and Pivotal Moments

1996 – LandPaths is founded to protect 1,500-acre McCormick Ranch

At the time of LandPaths’ founding, California State Parks faced severe financial cuts. They wouldn’t accept the property, adjacent to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, without a partner to provide operations and management. LandPaths was born to become that partner, taking a people-powered approach to access and stewardship. This process repeated later at Willow Creek with partners at the Mendocino Redwood Company and Fitch Mountain and Healdsburg Open Space Preserve, with partners at the City of Healdsburg.  

Our name, Land Partners Through Stewardship (LandPaths), arose from that approach and remains at the core of our work, which lies at the intersection of community and conservation. Volunteers like Dave Chalk, one of our first “community rangers,” started leaving a lasting impact. Thousands of volunteers later, we remember Dave’s commitment to opening and closing the gate at Los Alamos Road.  

1998 – Launching the Community Outings Program

Local folks (and voters) were ready to see with their own eyes and touch with their shoes what their tax dollars were making possible on open space lands purchased by the Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space District.  

LandPaths listened and heeded the call, launching the first free public outings program in Sonoma County. 25 years later, many local groups offer free outings – it can be hard to choose from them all! And so began a pattern of trail-blazing that continues to this day.  

Our community soon realized that public access and people-powered stewardship made a powerful combination. Thanks to dedicated volunteers like you, LandPaths stabilized tributaries, repaired eroding ranch roads, improved fish passage in the Santa Rosa Creek headwaters, and increased accessibility on Sonoma Mountain by building trails.   

1999 – 2 Visionaries + 1 Napkin = In Our Own BackYard

Born of a vision sketched on a napkin at Adel’s Diner in downtown Santa Rosa, Craig and Lee launched LandPaths’ award-winning environmental education program, In Our Own BackYard (IOOBY).  

Craig wanted to make sure that LandPaths wasn’t offering just another environmental education program. Drawing on years of teaching with Yosemite Institute, he designed a locally-grounded, multi-visit experience with a stewardship flair.

LandPaths was a leader in the county with IOOBY’s multi-visit and stewardship model, an approach now offered by many other environmental education orgs. IOOBY continues to offer more time in the field to students than other similar programs, aligned with research on how to have a lasting impact on children’s relationship with nature. 

Over 22 years, IOOBY has fostered a love of the land for more than 11,000 Sonoma County students and teachers. Imagine, some of the first elementary students we took out on the land are now in their thirties!

Entrance sign to Grove of Old Trees

2000 – Becoming Stewards of the Grove of Old Trees  

When other local organizations were not interested in stewarding the Grove of Old Trees, 28 acres of old-growth redwoods in Occidental, LandPaths partnered with a neighborhood group, Friends of the Grove, and stepped up to the challenge. Now expanded to 50 acres, this place of solace and reverence was the first (and remains one of just two) privately held, publicly accessible free, open spaces in Sonoma County.  

2000-2006 – Growing Up and Settling In

Between 2000 and 2006, LandPaths grew from three employees (and a home office in Craig and Lee’s house) to eight employees and an actual office space! 

Outings filled up, the volunteer force bloomed, and IOOBY had a waitlist. LandPaths had established itself as an institution, distinguished by its values and bold, can-do culture. 

What was not happening? LandPaths saw that programs were filling up, but the people attending generally looked the same. Hoping to engage a more diverse cross-section of Sonoma County, we led our first Spanish-language outing (a near total failure) along with multiple “full-access” outings for people with mobility challenges.  

In 2003, we were selected for the Coastal Conservancy’s Diversity Initiative, broadening and improving our ability to meet our goal of branching out conservation for everyone. 

county employees at Riddell Preserve

Gaining Ground: Willow Creek and Riddell Preserves

During this time, at Willow Creek in west Sonoma County, we piloted a model of free permit-based access, now replicated by Sonoma County Parks and a variety of open space agencies. We invested $700,000 in watershed restoration on the land and supported thousands of hours of people-powered stewardship. In 2009, we were critical to protecting the 3,000-acre Willow Creek addition. We managed public access and stewardship of the property until it was handed over to Sonoma Coast State Park a few years later. 

When Craig met the Riddell Family, they soon bonded over a vision of land to be shared and collectively stewarded. The family donated Riddell Preserve to LandPaths, 400 acres of wild beauty above Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley. Bringing the preserve into the fold allowed us to expand our reach, connecting local people with the beauty of north Sonoma County.   

Two girls shoving dirt at Bayer Farm

2007-2010 – Branching Out with Bayer Farm, Owl Camp, and Vamos Afuera  

It only took one visit to the Bayer property with the head of Santa Rosa City Parks for LandPaths to see the Bayer project for what it was – an opportunity to work with the Roseland community, and imagine together a vision for the land. After listening closely to community leaders, we knew it was essential to hire someone the community trusted to help realize Bayer Farm. And that is where Magdalena Ridley, a young, determined community activist, enters the story.  

Eight days after the City of Santa Rosa purchased the Bayer Farm property in 2007, we broke ground. It was a monumental moment in the most under-parked community between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oregon border. The timing was prescient. When the recession hit in 2008, the new garden was a space for the community to grow access healthy, organic food and build food security.

“We knew and wanted Bayer Farm to change LandPaths as a whole,” says Lee. “We were totally unprepared for all that we would learn and how we would grow and become better community stewards as a result.” 

Today, more than half of our staff members are from BIPOC communities, a third are bilingual in Spanish and English, and many are from or live in the Southwest Santa Rosa neighborhoods surrounding Bayer Farm and Andy’s Unity Park.

In the summer of 2008, LandPaths launched our first Owl Camp at Rancho Mark West. With just four kids and three adult leaders, we piloted a partnership with Jim and Betty Doerkson. Anchored at Rancho Mark West, LandPaths camps program now serves over 500 youth in the summer! We saw a need for youth to get into nature when school was out, and a boon to offer working and single parents struggling to find child care during those unstructured summer months. 

A young Latino family canoeing

In 2010, we launched TrekSonoma, a pilot initiative that got people outside for multi-day treks across Sonoma County, allowing an immersion into nature outside of the automobile.

That same year, Magdalena developed Vamos Afuera, a Spanish-language outings program that continues to this day. The first of its kind in Sonoma County, the program fosters and reweaves connection to nature through culturally relevant, community-building outdoor experiences led in Spanish. 

A group of young adults hikes up a hill in Sonoma County

2011-2012 – Inspired Forward Surfaces from a National Tragedy and Rancho Mark West and Bohemia Ecological Preserve Join the Fold  

Inspired by the success of camps, LandPaths worked with Jim and Betty Doerkson to protect Rancho Mark West and create an experience that would come to define summer for many Santa Rosa youth. With generous assistance from the California Coastal Conservancy, LandPaths purchased Rancho Mark West in 2011. Under the unique terms of this purchase, Jim and Betty have a reserved life estate on the unique property and are our partners in stewarding this land. Rancho Mark West has become a beloved, close-to-town site for IOOBY, Owl Camp, public outings, Vamos Afuera, holiday and seasonal gatherings, and more. 

In 2012, deeply affected by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we launched Inspired Forward, specifically to reach teens through nature-based mentoring and leadership development. 

We also continued to expand our youth programming outside of schools with Owl Camp, Russian River Teen Trek, Backcountry Basics, and more. These camps programs, for ages 5 to young adults, are driven by proactive recruitment and robust scholarships to ensure a diverse camper community.  

In 2012, Ted and Phyllis Swindells donated the 554-acre Bohemia Ecological Preserve property to LandPaths, in close collaboration with Sonoma Land Trust, opening up a West County protected land for expanded LandPaths programs. 

A mother reading to her daughter in LandPaths' iRead Outside program

2014 – Early childhood literacy and nature make a winning recipe for iRead Outside

When the County launched an early childhood literacy program, in response to growing research on pre-kindergarten educational disparities, LandPaths was beginning to recognize a recipe that works. Community need plus nature equals something magical. The result was iRead Outside: the popular program combines nature, fun, the wonder of reading, and support and encouragement for family reading practices.  

Three people gardening at Andy's Unity Park

2017-2018 – Responding to the Tubbs Fire and Breaking Ground at Andy’s Unity Park Community Garden  

After the Tubbs Fire, LandPaths responded with a pop-up kitchen at Bayer Farm, a nature camp at Rancho Mark West, and outings to the coast to gain fresh air.  

In 2018, due to huge community demand, LandPaths and residents broke ground on a community garden at Andy’s Unity Park in southwest Santa Rosa. The garden was a response to community expression of need for a space where the neighborhood could gather for gardening, potlucks, and a warm feeling of belonging and safety. It was renamed Jeff’s Garden in 2021 in honor of Jeff Bodwin. Jeff led Moorland’s effort to create a community garden at Andy’s Unity Park after visiting and getting inspired by the community at Bayer Farm.  

We also continued the expansion of our bilingual programming with the hiring of four new bilingual staff members. 

Ocean Song view

2019 – Becoming Stewards of Ocean Song

Thanks to strong community interest, a small group of angel funders, and the promise that Ocean Song’s stunning beauty would be locally owned and protected forever, LandPaths was able to purchase the initial 421-acre parcel in November 2019. A breathtaking abundance of plant and animal live here, the homeland since time immemorial of the Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok.

LandPaths acquired the adjacent parcel from the Myers family in May 2021, bringing the total protected area to 800 acres. The unification of the two parcels will ensure the protection, stewardship, and potential future enjoyment of the land for generations. 

2020-2021 – Responsive, Creative, Delivering on Mission

The view from Riddell Preserve during the Walbridge Fire. A tree in shadows sits close to camera and the dawn sunrise shines pink and purple with hills in the distance.

2020 and 2021 reinforced and reminded us that we are capable of adapting in crisis to meet our mission — and swiftly. This time of pandemic, racial reckoning, and wildfires only underscored the importance of our core work.

In 2020,  the rising tide of movements for Black lives and racial justice pushed us deeper into an overdue grappling with racial justice, equity, and white privilege, building on the reckoning with these issues we began in 2004. In 2021, we embarked on a year-long effort for staff and board, combining equity training with implementing developing a strategic action plan for becoming an anti-racist organization. Our commitment to a  just and fair workplace and community makes this work essential. We do this to be a stronger organization, to more effectively meet our mission alongside friends like you.  Beginning in 2022, we are implementing the new, multi-year Equity Strategic Plan across the entire organization, backed and supported by an accountability team and by dedicated resources. This work is ongoing and part of everything we do.

Our responsibility toward the land goes hand in hand with our work toward greater equity and justice. In fall 2020, wildfire swept through two of the preserves in our care and our dedication to climate and wildfire resilience and adaptability was called to the fore. Read more here about how the Glass and Walbridge Fires impacted Rancho Mark West and Riddell Preserves, and how the Sonoma County community pulled together with us and so many other agencies to respond.

From the outset of the pandemic, we never let up on connecting people and the land. In 2020, we were one of the only local nature camps to continue in the face of the pandemic. After preparing for months to ensure health and safety at camp, we provided 375 young people with the chance to spend a week of summer days outside, on the land, six feet apart but together. In 2021, with your help, we provided 16 weeks of camp for over 500 kids and teens, while remaining dedicated to equitable access through a robust scholarship program; in 2021 we continued this trajectory with 20 weeks of camp for over 600 young people and provided scholarships and transportation for 50% of campers.

Our entire community was in our minds, hearts, and strategy sessions throughout the long months of the pandemic. For some, online opportunities were vital to staying connected and safe. The iRead Outside/yoLeo Afuera program moved to an online platform, and our In Our Own BackYard school program’s “live from the preserves” online lessons inspired teachers and students alike. For others, any and every opportunity to getting outside safely was sought after and prized. Our Outings team developed family-group experiences to welcome people safely onto the land. This model was adapted further to provide frontline workers and their families opportunities to recover and decompress from stress and anxiety.

And at Bayer Farm and Andy’s Unity Park, our staff and volunteer community worked to convert educational gardens lying fallow into production gardens, feeding families in Southwest Santa Rosa for whom access to fresh, healthy, food close to home became a true lifeline.

As we look ahead in to the next 25 years, LandPaths remains dedicated to land and community and to making sure everyone knows themselves to be safe, welcome, and to belong at LandPaths and in nature. With courage, love, inclusivity, reciprocity, and joy, we will continue to lead with nature to foster a love of the land with you.

Thank you supporting our mission to foster a love of the land.

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