An Interview with Ernie Carpenter, Founding Board Member and Former 5th District Supervisor

You have several generations of young people now who have grown up with LandPaths’ education and conservation issues in their mind. They will spread that forward. I know 40-year-olds who were involved with LandPaths back then and it’s the greatest thing. It’s a legacy. 

How and when did you first connect with LandPaths?  

What got me hooked in more than anything else was the idea of use of the land, and particularly young people. That was pretty much my background – working for preservation, working on social issues, particularly race issues.

Basically, Caryl Hart called me to serve as a board member. I was still on the County Board of Supervisors at that point. Caryl had an idea along with a major landowner and a friend of hers, Sandra Learned Perry, to preserve some land in a different way and to have kind of a social component – use of the land.  

Now, in the beginning, it was just talk. When you start putting something together, you need financing. You need to incorporate. Caryl pretty much made that happen and we all discussed and had regular meetings

What was it like in those first years when you were on the LandPaths’ board?  

We were able to make things happen because of the personalities and the positions of the people involved. Supervisors, park directors, winery owners, large landowners. It was a common vision. 

I think what really made it happen was when Craig came around. He was a gem from day one. Not only had the concept, but had the abilities and the wherewithal to make it happen. As a board member, that’s pretty much what you want. You want somebody who can do it.

In the beginning, it was somewhat frustrating not to get access to the public lands around the county. There was a greater purpose, and that was getting kids involved. And, I think Craig was really strong there. Part of it was his music background, but it was an agency thing, too. I think people related to that. The Doerksens who owned Rancho Mark West did. They came in pretty much all-in, because of not only the concept of preservation, but the concept of youth. What played out over there at the Doerksen’s farm was probably what LandPaths had in mind and where it started.  

I never suspected that LandPaths would be so prominent and be so successful with that model! When you look at Bayer Farm, and stuff happening out here in West County now, and you look at potential projects down the road, I think the vision was a correct one.  

You always have to have the right people behind it, and I’ll say that Craig and Caryl Hart were the right people. I stayed with it for about three years. I’d just come off of 16 years on the Board of Supervisors, and after that I decided that LandPaths was in good hands, and I took my leave. 

What was Sonoma County like 25 years ago, in terms of conservation and other programs and opportunities to steward and be on the land at the time?

Backing up a little bit more, let me give you the political situation of the county.  

The farmers who had been here for generations looked at their parcels or property as retirement, right?  You retire and sell your land. We ended that coming in to the 90s. We built a whole new land use using large lot zoning and directing growth to community centers. In 2000, we were in a definite period of transition on land. What a lot of people that had been here forever thought was going to happen, didn’t happen. We tried to direct living to the cities, to community centers, the suburbs and we achieved that.  

LandPaths came in behind that in a good way because the parks system under Joe Rodota had been built up really well and then Caryl came in and she was active and she wanted to do stuff. LandPaths came in at the point where everybody wanted more access, more nature, and more getting out there, getting involved.  

 What I’m trying to say is, often, making it happen is showing that it can happen. And I think that’s what LandPaths started doing, showing that it can happen.  

What do you envision or what is your wish for the next 25 years of LandPaths in terms of people and connections the land?  ?

More opportunities for people who would not otherwise be able to appreciate the outdoors and our nature here. To engage, to keep young people who might not otherwise be able to participate in this wonderful county, and our governance, and our nature, and our parks, and move on to be contributing citizens.  

You have several generations of young people now who have grown up with LandPaths’ education and conservation issues in their mind. They will spread that forward. I know 40-year-olds now who were involved with LandPaths back then and it’s the greatest thing. It’s a legacy. I know that these people will support LandPaths and come back and be future board members and contributors to the cause.  

More of the same, I’d say!  

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