Sep 302014
 

“No summit within miles carries the cachet of the mountain I live on” writes Tracy Salcedo-Chourre, author of this post.

Seems I’ve always called a mountain home. I used to live on a mountaintop—at least by California standards. This was in Colorado; our home on Circle Drive was perched on a nameless summit at 8,500 feet. That qualifies, even if neighboring Bergen Peak, at nearly 10,000 feet, got all the glory.

Now I live at the foot of Sonoma Mountain, which by Colorado standards is a hummock. Never mind that, though: It’s as steep and imposing, in its context, as any Rocky Mountain. And it’s the iconic one—no summit within miles carries the cachet of the mountain I live on.

Nearing the summit o Sonoma Mountain

Nearing the summit of Sonoma Mountain

It’s odd, though. I am a walker, by both nature and profession–Tracy of the Trails. But I have never been to the top of Sonoma Mountain. It’s been off-limits, private property. I’ve been as close as the trails permit, gazing upward in mild frustration at the grassy apex, contemplating trespass but turning around instead because I am not, by nature, a trespasser. Especially in parks and preserves. I know how much work goes into setting parkland apart, and I would never violate the trust that exists between parkland and neighboring private property.

So I am elated at news that Sonoma Mountain’s summit will soon be accessible to walkers like me, by dint of private/public negotiations that have yielded new deposits into the Sonoma County Open Space land bank and a new stretch of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. Hikers will now be able to explore the top as well as the bottom of the mountain.

But were the top never to open—or were I never to reach it—wouldn’t matter to me in the long run. It doesn’t make me love the mountain more. Just to be clear: The paths on the lower reaches of Sonoma Mountain have imprinted themselves forever on the soles of my wandering shoes. I know pockets of the eastern flanks intimately; Jack London State Historic Park and the open spaces above the Sonoma Developmental Center are my backyard. I return again and again to the old familiar, where the vistas never fail, the woodlands are always fragrant, the flowers and grasses demonstrate the seasons in a parade of blooms that mature to seeds and begin again.

SDC wildlands

SDC wildlands

Yes, I’ll be able to get to the top soon, but I’ll be found on the paths I’ve walked for years, around my home at the base.

By Tracy Salcedo-Chourre

 

Jun 112014
 

two moon family farm raised beds sonoma mountain preservationIn 2009 we moved our family of 5 from suburban San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles County) to rural Glen Ellen. This was not ‘flight from the city’ but a home-coming; a chance to move back onto the property where my husband grew up, bordering the SDC and Asbury Creek, in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain. Our property has been in the Lee family closing-in on 40 years, but the history is rich here, and previous owners included Vallejo, Chauvet, and Pagani. As I sit watching the clouds lick at the ridge of the Sonoma Mountain to our west or look up from our orchard to see how the sun is playing off Mt. Hood to the north, I think about the other folks who have occupied this flank of the mountain, looking up from their work to those exact same views.

Our 5 acre parcel was once covered in vineyard, one of the oldest in the valley. If you ride on our mower you can still feel the undulating ghost of the grape rows under the blade. The vines are gone, but we are continuing the ag tradition from those early days of Chauvet and Pagani’s viticulture, morphing into vegetable gardening and animal husbandry passed down through my in-laws, and then expanded by our little family. What started as our ‘quaint’ desire to ‘get back to the land and grow our own food’, has blossomed over the past several years into a small family farm business. As Two Moon Family Farm, we sell eggs and produce to several local restaurants and at the farmer’s market (Kenwood Community Farmers Market). In addition we raise goats and the occasional turkeys and lamb for our own family. Our children understand where food comes from and we are carrying on the tradition of having a small homestead farm on the side of Sonoma Mountain.

It is amazing to live on an interface between the wilds of the mountain and the village of Glen Ellen. Our farm is surrounded by open, natural habitat. The wildlife we see every day is always a great form of entertainment for our long-time city friends when they come to visit ‘Camp Lee’. Out our window we’ve seen bobcats, jackrabbits, raccoons, quail, deer, skunk, ground squirrels, woodpeckers, turkey vultures, hawks, snakes, coyotes, etc… Currently we have three ‘families’ of wild turkeys wandering about- three hens with at least 10 chicks in tow. Steve has distinct memories of wild pig encounters while growing up here, although they have since been actively removed from the mountain. And, of course, there are mountain lions. Although we haven’t seen a cat directly, we know that they share this mountain with us, and we’ve seen the evidence of their behavior. Hikers on treks just up beyond our fence have reported them and we had a young goat taken by a lion early in our adventures, when we hadn’t yet fully secured our night-time penning situation. We love overlapping with the nature of this mountain even when predators ‘visit’ the farm.

It sometimes feels like a dream when I look up from my work in the garden to see the changing light on the hills and valleys on our side of the mountain. There is a sort of magic here. Just slightly up the hill to our north west is the ruin of Jack London’s Wolf House. I know he was drawn here by that same pulse. My husband knows almost every foot of this mountain, that he often refers to as ‘his backyard’. And it is…. but it is yours too…. with all of it’s history, wildlife, and magic.

Shannon and Steven Lee are trained marine scientists who have more recently taken on farming. They have numerous ‘jobs’ but are primarily science educators and researchers, respectively. They share the property with their three children, Steven’s parents, 10 goats, 20 hens, several roosters, and 2 barn cats.

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Photography by Shannon Lee

This post is the first installment of the “Why I Love The Mountain” series of guest posts from local Sonoma residents on SonomaMountain.org – Thank you Shannon & Steven for your contribution and we encourage readers to like Two Moon Family Farm on Facebook and follow them on twitter at @TwoMoonFF

Apr 072014
 

For over 100 years the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) near Glen Ellen has provided a safe and secure place for the developmentally disabled. Now SDC faces certain closure by the State. The only question is how long the institution will remain open.

An impressive coalition of stakeholders is working proactively to preserve the 800 acres of undeveloped land and find creative ways to serve the remaining population. The coalition grew out of ongoing efforts by environmental groups to save the only remaining wildlife corridor left in the Valley, and by the parent group to ensure care for their family members.

What Is the Status of SDC?

A moratorium on admissions has reduced the population served at SDC approximately 500 people who are the most fragile or have multiple impairments. SDC is the largest employer in the Valley, including many workers with skills found nowhere else in the state.

SDC wildlands

SDC wildlands

SDC’s lands connect Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the eastern   slopes. SDC is the linchpin. Its valley floor lands are largely undeveloped. SDC covers 1000 acres, including the 200-acre footprint of buildings and 800-acre wildlands.

Some of the several hundred buildings in the footprint of SDC are architectural gems. Some are medical clinics and labs, Some are the resident’s homes. Some serve as schools, sheltered workshops, and recreational centers. SDC also includes a farm run for the clients, and two community-used fields for soccer and baseball. The area is laced with trails that have been used for a century by generations of Valley residents. Two lakes store water for irrigation and client use.

Future use of these buildings is a concern of the coalition. Numerous options for an expanded health facility for people with special needs are being discussed, and will be proposed to the State.

Who Is the Coalition?

Coalition members include the Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma Mountain Preservation, the Parent Hospital Association, the County Economic Development Board, the Sonoma County Water Agency, Labor Representatives from the Center, a former Director at the Center, Medical personnel, Jack London Park representatives, Sonoma County Health Services, and District Representatives from the Offices of Senator Noreen Evans, Assembly member Yamada, and Representative Mike Thompson. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin leads the effort. The group meets monthly.

Coalition members have been working closely with Department Directors in Sacramento, attending meetings, and keeping a close watch on developments. Senator Evans has introduced SB 1428, a bill to protect the wild lands. More bills are in the hopper.  Sonoma County Supervisors will soon receive a briefing on the ongoing developments.

Past Citizen Efforts Saved Open Space

In 2000, State plans to surplus some acres of old SDC orchard for a vineyard lease or certain sale to developers prompted a general meeting of citizens in Sonoma Valley. Led by SMP and other local groups, several hundred people with strong commitment to preserving SDC upper lands convinced then State Senator Mike Thompson to introduce a bill to ensure that the upper lands would be saved for open space. Over 600 acres of undeveloped lands at SDC were deeded between 2000 and 2002 to State Department of Parks and Recreation, which then added these acres to Jack London State Historic Park.

In the coming months there will be a community meeting to engage support for the efforts of the coalition. We invite you to join in the effort we know is to come!

By Diane (Mickey) Cooke  

Feb 272014
 

One night in 2009, a black bear was spotted by five different people near Adobe Creek in Petaluma. After being chased by a helicopter, the bear followed that creek back up and over Sonoma Mountain to return to Napa County from whence he or she had probably started.

It is likely that this adventurous ursine was using the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor to travel from Napa County through the Sonoma Valley and up and over Sonoma Mountain.

This bear didn’t just drop into Petaluma — he or she had been able to travel a long distance, safely and mostly unseen, through existing land and creek corridors. Such corridors are essential for wildlife passage — not just for large carnivores, like bear and mountain lion, but for the many smaller critters as well, like raccoon, fox and bobcat.

Sonoma Land Trust has embarked on a multi-year project to keep open a narrow pinch point in the high-priority Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor that is at serious risk of closing up. Five miles long and only three-quarters of a mile wide at its narrowest point—the “pinch point”—the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor stretches from Sonoma Mountain, across Sonoma Creek and the valley floor, and east to the top of the Mayacamas range. It is located within the “Marin Coast to Blue Ridge Critical Linkage” identified in the Bay Area Critical Linkages Project and Conservation Lands Network, both projects of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

wildlife corridor map

Because of the work of SLT, SMP, and others over the years, more than 8,000 acres of the corridor are already protected as natural land. It is the unprotected land at the heart of the wildlife corridor on which efforts are now focused.

Ensuring that wildlife can move safely through the landscape so their populations can persist in the face of development and climate change projections is the goal of this large-scale project. Acquiring new properties is only one way of accomplishing this.

“We can’t afford to buy the entire corridor, nor would we want to because collaborating with private landowners is a very effective conservation strategy,” says Wendy Eliot, Sonoma Land Trust’s conservation director. “So we are using a variety of land protection tools to protect and enhance the corridor’s permeability, such as deed restrictions and new types of conservation easements and neighbor agreements — along with purchasing at-risk parcels.” SLT staff is developing model conservation easement language, focused on “wildlife freedom of movement” that will be used by many conservation groups working to secure wildlife corridors.

coyoteSonMtn

To validate the theory that this area is operating as a functional wildlife corridor, SLT has placed wildlife cameras on Sonoma Mountain and up and down the valley to collect data on the animals who live there. Cameras have captured mountain lion, fox, dueling bucks, opossum, bobcat, skunk, coyote, turkey vultures, jackrabbits, squirrels, and more.

The role of SDC wildlands is crucial to preservation of the wildlife corridor. The SDC Coalition, of which SMP and SLT are a part, aims to create a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections — for the wildlife corridor, watershed preservation and public access. Successful protection of the undeveloped portions of the SDC would directly link more than 9,000 acres of protected land and help ensure the continued movement of wildlife across the Sonoma Valley and beyond. There are no do-overs once land is developed.

Simple things landowners can do to improve wildlife movement:

• Remove unnecessary fencing
• Modify fencing for wildlife passage
• Turn off lights at night
• Don’t leave pets (or pet food) outside at night
• Reduce nighttime noise
• Eliminate or minimize pesticide and herbicide use
• Modify vegetation management: Protect your home from wildfire, but leave enough cover for wildlife.

Map, infrared camera photo, and information courtesy of Sonoma Land Trust

Dec 092013
 

sonoma developmental center trail jack london sonoma mountainSonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is the oldest facility in California established specifically to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. It opened to 148 residents on November 24, 1891, culminating a ten-year project by two northern California women who had children with developmental disabilities, then referred to as feeble-minded. Private owners donated the land for that purpose.

Since then the facility at Eldridge has undergone four name changes and has expanded several times. As anyone who has hiked southeast from Jack London State Historic Park will know, you can now clamber down through the orchard once used by and for SDC clients. But it almost wasn’t so.

In the mid-90s the state decided that the farm on the upper acres could no longer benefit the increasingly infirm residents, so the old orchard and other upper wooded areas, reaching to the ridgeline of Sonoma Mountain were declared surplus property to be sold for any purpose. One local vineyard owner sought the land for grape growing with some proceeds dedicated to support the disabled.

In February 1996, over 200 citizens attended a meeting chaired by then state senator Mike Thompson and organized by SMP. A strong majority of attendees supported keeping the lands in its current state and adding them to adjacent Jack London Park.

For the next five years local and state agencies planned, re-planned and re-thought options for the more than 600 acres. In addition to Thompson’s office and SMP, the county Open Space District got involved. Eventually the state moved from advocating the sale for vineyard use to sale for multiple purposes (including housing) to, ultimately, transfer of the entire acreage to the state Parks Department for expanding Jack London Park. SMP veterans advocated vigorously throughout this time for the open space option.

In 2001, thanks largely to then Assembly member Pat Wiggins, negotiations between state agencies got underway and reached conclusion with SMP members, among others, at the table.

Isn’t it time to take a walk?

Dec 012012
 

sonoma mountain sonoma developmental center SDCIt’s no secret that the Sonoma Developmental Center – one of only four such large residential care facilities left in the state – may close down in the not too distant future. SDC’s website shows 523 clients now live there; the state has been shuttering these facilities when the populations drop below 500. Families of residents want the facility to stay open so their relatives don’t have toe leave the bucolic and relatively safe environs. But the state may be forced to hut SDC down and relocate remaining clients to comply with the 1969 Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act.

Local Sonoma residents have expressed concern, not only for the sake of these clients, but also for the welfare of the lands that SDC encompasses. What will the state decide to do with the property when it no longer serves SDC’s needs?

At a recent gathering at the Sonoma Ecology Center, which rents space on the SDC campus, a dozen individuals and representatives of organizations, including the Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, the county Agriculture and Open Space District, SMP, county parks and state parks, talked about this critical property.

Why is it critical? SDC sits on the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a vital connection identified and described by the Sonoma Ecology Center. Some of the last available open space for endangered and at-risk species to migrate from Sonoma Mountain east to the Mayacamas crosses Sonoma Valley through and adjacent to the state-owned facility. Recently, the Bay Area Critical Linkages project (sponsored by the Bay Area Open Space Council) identified this habitat corridor as a top priority wildlife link in the Bay Area.

When the state decides it can no longer maintain SDC in its current configuration and at its current cost, the land may be declared surplus property and potentially sold or leased for development. Family members of SDC clients have begun to explore options for an alternative development that would meet the requirements of the Lanterman Act, enable clients to remain on the land, and provide revenue to the state by adding a variety of marketable components.

Creating a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections – for a wildlife corridor, watershed preservation, traffic mitigation, and public access – would be the optimal outcome as these and potentially other concerned groups begin to grapple with the future of this keystone property.

Oct 152007
 

The addition of over 600 acres to the Jack London State Historic Park was the culmination of a seven-year effort led by Sonoma Mountain Preservation (SMP). The transfer of the two upper western parcels of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC), which increased the Park’s acreage by over 40 per cent, was celebrated on September 5, 2002.

sonoma mountain jack londonThe future of these parcels first came into question in 1995 when the California Department of General Services (DGS) declared them to be surplus to the needs of the Center. SMP organized a public meeting in February 1996 to discuss the disposition of these ecologically important lands, which, under proposed legislation, would be available for vineyard development. Over 200 citizens attended this meeting and voiced an almost unanimous opinion that the parcels should be maintained in their natural condition and added to the Park.

The legislation was amended to include an option to sell or exchange the two parcels in a transaction that would result in their becoming part of Jack London Park. The following year the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (OSD) chaired a public meeting where once again public settlement remained the same: open space for the two parcels. In Sacramento DGS continued working toward an agricultural lease on the lower parcel which included the “old orchards” and the old growth redwood tree.

In January 1998 a break-through came when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved OSD’s purchase of a forever-wild easement over the upper of the two parcels as a coast of $255,000. At a public meeting in January 1998, attended by over 250 people, there was again opposition to an agricultural lease over the lower “old orchards” parcel.

In the fall of 2000, an environmental consultant contracted by the DGS began work on a two-year land-use feasibility study for the “old orchards” parcel, which could have resulted in a multiplicity of suggested uses and opened the way for intensive agriculture, and possible sale of house sites below Fern Lake. By December, DGS had reversed its position to concentrate solely on the conversion of “old orchards” to vineyards.

In February 2001, with tremendous effort by legislative members Wiggins, Nation and Chesbro, transfer of the two parcels to Jack London State Park became the goal. By June 2001, the land-use feasibility study concluded that the State Park would be the optimum organization to have control and oversight over the lower parcel. The study cited the Park Department’s ability to protect both the watershed and historical and natural resources of the land. The transfer of the two parcels to Jack London State Historic Park took place.

In August 2002, the Sonoma Ridge Trail, a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail system, was dedicated on the upper of the two transferred parcels.

~Pat Eliot, Sonoma Mountain Preservation