How did you first get connected and what interested you in LandPaths?
I was engaged with the Sonoma Land Trust and with the Open Space District from pretty much the beginning, and LandPaths, under Caryl Hart’s push, became the provider of public access that was lacking in those other two land-preserving organizations. I remember LandPaths being Caryl’s answer to the complaint that the OSD had all these properties they were buying up to protect, but the public didn’t have access.
I was first attracted to the hikes on the land and getting to know the new pieces of land LandPaths had under their flagship.
I should also give a shout out to [former Board member] Michael Ellis, who I hiked with on his Monday hiking series for at least 20 or 30 years! I always say Michael has taught me everything I’ve forgotten! Every spring I would learn the wildflowers all over again. Hard to believe he’s been on the Board for 10 years now.
Then, Craig invited me to Bayer Farm when it was just being developed. I saw the necessity and the beauty of engaging the Hispanic community with the organization and their programs. Then I also saw the work at Rancho Mark West on St Helena Road: more good work and bringing in people who may not get out onto the land on their own.
With everything you support across Sonoma County, your deep insight into the nonprofits working here, why do you engage with and support LandPaths?
Because LandPaths has a direct connection with people. Yes, it’s through the land, but the connection with the people is unique to LandPaths. I think more than anything, LandPaths has stayed true to a simple idea of connecting with people. Whereas by necessity other organizations have had to join with bigger organizations, just like a small business sometimes can’t survive without getting bought out by somebody who can plow a lot more money into it. But if you lose the organization’s original impetus, it become more corporate, less personal. I’m glad to say that LandPaths still has that entrepreneurial, founder connection.
I’m interested in the more entrepreneurial, the more personally connected, the more “get out and dig your own garden beds”. LandPaths isn’t corporate or slick. My heart is still with Craig and Lee and LandPaths and the people that keep it going. It’s hard to believe that much time has passed.
What kind of impact has LandPaths had in these 25 years, how have we contributed to change in Sonoma County?
When I went to Bayer Farm a long time ago, you had not remodeled the farmhouse yet, you had individual farm plots, and having lunches delivered for the people who were volunteering there. Since then, you’ve remodeled the farmhouse and done a lot of things in 10 or 15 years! So that is my attraction to LandPaths, realizing the dream. I was also engaged with the “hut to hut” concept; creating a network of huts for multi-day, long treks on the land. The original hut to hut concept was designed for more experienced hikers, but then LandPaths branched out into all kinds of hikes for all levels of experience – the main purpose being to bring people and kids closer to nature.
Also, the Owl Camp and other activities at Rancho Mark West inspired me. Owl Camp bring kids and families together, which is healthy. This is one of the important things. People who would not necessarily feel comfortable signing up for a kayaking trip as their first outdoor experience, they will try signing up for a summer camp. They are brought together with their peers and sometimes their parents in the camp. Once they’ve done that, I think you have them wanting to go all the time. LandPaths has opened the door for youth to engage – and I have to believe that our hope lies with them.
What is your wish for the future for LandPaths and Sonoma County?
What worries me is that people will forget how hard we worked to maintain things like Community Separators – Greenways – and to keep our cities unique. They’ll just think it’s not important anymore, that really worries me.
My hope for LandPaths’ impact is that in 10-20 years, when the government wants to build a freeway through an open space or agricultural zone, or do something like plow through an area, people will say “no that’s our land, we love that, that’s valuable for us”. People will rise up and stand up for open spaces, because they will have experienced it for themselves.