Feb 052023

Protecting the Land – An Interview with Teri Shore

This is the sixth of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Teri Shore is a long-time environmentalist, born and raised in the Bay Area. Over the last couple of decades, she has championed winning campaigns to preserve greenbelts and open space, create safe havens for endangered species, and clean up cruise ship, ferry, and container ship pollution. She has worked for Greenbelt Alliance, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Friends of the Earth, and Bluewater Network. She also volunteers with Sierra Club. Her current focus is protecting at-risk open space and rural lands in Sonoma County from urbanization and the harm it causes to our climate, environment, and communities.
An avid hiker, backpacker, and wilderness advocate, Teri has led Sierra Club backpack trips and has climbed many peaks including Mt. Shasta and Mt. Whitney. Before committing full-time to environmental work, she was a journalist and newspaper professional. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Journalism.

What do you do for Sonoma Mountain Preservation?

I serve on the board to help make decisions about the policies and direction of Sonoma Mountain Preservation and to advocate for open space protections on the mountain and beyond. I’ve been on the board for about five years, now.

What is your favorite thing about working on the SMP board? 

Collaborating with passionate like-minded individuals – including our board, our members, and the community – to protect our lands and environment from overuse and urban development.

You are an avid hiker and mountain climber. What are some of the most amazing hikes or climbs you have been on?

Solo-hiking the John Muir Trail in July of 2014. It took twenty-one days and was my proudest backpacking achievement. Climbing to the top of Mt Shasta was the hardest climb I ever did, finally making it after three tries (way back in 1996). The most fascinating was a week-long supported hike on the Lurujarri Trail in remote Northwestern Australia in July 2013, led in part by members of the Goolarabooloo “mob” of the region.

What are your goals for the future related to Sonoma Mountain and/or your dedication to conservation? 

I want to protect the remaining open space. We are working on conservation easements and policies to prevent overdevelopment, as well as enforcement of the longstanding county design standards for Sonoma Mountain that were forged by our founding members Pat Eliot and Mickey Cooke, and others. 

What would you like to see happen with Sonoma Mountain? 

A “One Mountain” partnership like “One Tam.” All public and private landowners and people who live on or near the mountain partner, as well as schools, elected officials, and non-profits work together to seek the best environmental and community outcomes for Sonoma Mountain’s oak woodlands, forest, creeks, grasslands, to support the birds, plants, and wildlife that rely on the mountain.

Do you have a story or experience to share about Sonoma Mountain?

One of the most moving experiences was after an SMP retreat on the mountain a couple of years ago. Meg Beeler took us to the top for a sacred ceremony to thank and bless the mountain. To be honest, I was skeptical at first. But after we shared our thoughts and visions for Sonoma Mountain and other mountains, and then participated in a simple ritual, I felt light and happy like I hadn’t been in a long time. We laughed and giggled in delight at the beauty of it all the way back down the mountain.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to protect Sonoma Mountain and other wild spaces in Sonoma County, what would that be?

Support a designated wildlife corridor across Sonoma Mountain and across Sonoma Valley and beyond by contributing to SMP and reading the fantastic book about the mountain: “Where the World Begins.”

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Jan 022023

Arthur Dawson: Author, Historical Ecologist, and SMP’s New Board Chair

This is the fifth of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Arthur Dawson, SMP’s new board chair in January 2023, is a writer and historical ecologist. He was a Poet-Teacher with California Poets in the Schools for thirty years. He has also worked with the Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, Pepperwood, and a myriad of other regional ecological and educational organizations. As a historical ecologist, he’s collected oral histories from local elders and contributed research to local and regional restoration efforts. He has written three local bestsellers, and was the primary writer for SMP’s, Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images. His work is regularly published in regional and national magazines, papers, and anthologies on topics such as Sonoma County’s natural and cultural history. Arthur lives with his wife, Jill, in Glen Ellen.

What drew you to join the board of SMP? 

I first became aware of Sonoma Mountain Preservation when they were involved in getting the SDC orchard transferred to Jack London State Park, which happened between 2000 and 2002. A few years later I remember sitting in on some meetings at the Sonoma Ecology Center, where I was working. I can’t remember exactly how I joined the board, but I remember I was impressed with the people who were involved. 

What’s your favorite part of being on the board

The people are wonderful! Dedicated, determined, passionate and joyful about the mountain.

What do you do for SMP? 

I’ve served as Vice Chair for several years and I am now in the process of transitioning into the Chair position. I’ve been putting out the Journal for about the last 10 years—as the main editor and writer. I’ve led some outings, including the two-day Sonoma Mountain treks we did for a couple years just before the pandemic. I had the privilege of being the primary author for our award-winning, bestselling book, Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images. I’ve also been serving as the main distributor—doing mailings and deliveries to stores.

How did the book come together? What’s the story? 

For quite a while I had the idea of a book on Sonoma Mountain in the back of my mind. At some level I was waiting for the write moment to begin. Then we got a surprise donation from Suzie Schroll to spend on “whatever will most benefit the mountain.” The board held several meetings over several months, weighing different possibilities before settling on a book about the mountain. I was chosen as primary author in the Spring of 2017 and started working on it. Then in October, I lost my house to the wildfires and was scrambling around trying to get settled enough to start working on it again. I credit the book project with helping me keep a sense of purpose and balance when everything else in my life was very chaotic. Two months after the fire I spent a long weekend on writers retreat at the cottage headquarters of Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation (no relation to us) near the summit. The views and the solitude were wonderful and allowed me to get back my head fully back into the book. I did that several times over the next couple years. 

One of the best parts of the book process was sitting with Meg, Nancy, Mickey and Jack Nisson (apologies if I forgot anyone) and choosing from among the 2500 photos we got from so many community members and professional photographers. That’s what the book really taught me—was how many people really care about the mountain and how big that community is. And the book really came out of the contributions of so many people.

The book launches were exciting, gathering 250 or more people each in Santa Rosa and Sonoma, and less in Petaluma where the venue was smaller. So glad that was in 2019—it wouldn’t have worked a year later with the pandemic!

How did you “meet” Sonoma Mountain?

When I first visited Jack London State Park in 1985 and had a picnic with my grandparents. Chapter three in the book describes my early impressions of the mountain.

In the beginning, I was only casually aware of Sonoma Mountain. That first winter I noticed dusk falling early, saw the December sun setting behind the mountain, and realized I was standing in its shadow. I saw storms blow in over the ridge and in summer, fingers of fog spilling over from the Petaluma side. On rare occasions over the following years, I’d awaken to discover the upper slopes blanketed with snow. Arising before dawn to get my kids off to school, I often caught a glimpse of the ridgetop turning pink as the first light flooded the mountain’s eastern slopes, marking the start of the day.

Where the World Begins, page 25

Do you have a favorite personal story of Sonoma Mountain? 

Getting charged by a mountain lion! See chapter seven.

The lion and I locked gazes again. We stared at each other long enough for me to begin wondering if I might be making it angry. I knew grizzly bears interpret a stare as a direct challenge – something they respond to aggressively. But lions? I couldn’t remember what I’d heard. Turning my gaze sideways again, I watched the lion with my peripheral vision. No change. When I shifted back to a direct look, we again locked eyes. 

Where the World Begins, page 61

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Dec 042022

Reciprocity: Giving back to the Sonoma Developmental Center
by Tracy Salcedo

We want so much from this land. We want it to host a thousand homes, or half that many, or something between. We want it to support workspace for a thousand people, or more, or less. We want it to be a resort hotel. We want it to be a climate center. We want it to be an historic district. We want it to be a park. We want an agrihood, a community center, a maker space, a school, playing fields, a coffee shop …

We want, and we will take. It’s what we do. We have parceled out this piece of land and now we fight over how much we want and where we want it. It is not land; it is commodity. 

We want, and we will take, but what do we give in exchange? The land doesn’t take money. 

I’ve been reading a book called Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, holder and teacher of Indigenous wisdom. A member of the Potawatomi Nation, she writes about reciprocity, about how the Potawatomi give back to the plants and animals that feed and sustain them. When they harvest, they harvest only what they need. When there isn’t enough, they don’t take. They choose with care and seek connection with the thing they need. They ask permission. They receive and then they reciprocate, sometimes planting, sometimes tending, sometimes with prayer. Sometimes they are simply grateful.

Reciprocity gives voice to the flower and the soil and the jackrabbit. Reciprocity asks us to acknowledge that they can be overused and abused. Reciprocity asks us to respect their rights, to leave them in peace, and to thank them for their gifts. Reciprocity acknowledges the give and take between people and all the others who share the planet we inhabit. “It is an odd dichotomy we have set for ourselves,” Kimmerer writes, “between loving people and loving land.”

So here we are, gifted with 180 acres of land that can — some say should — be developed, surrounded by 765 acres that can — some say should — become parkland, surrounded by a village that can — some say should — become urbanized, in a beautiful valley that everyone wants. We tug at this place with our desires and think only of how it can serve us. In our selfishness we are hurtful, and in our selfishness, we see that hurt as being inflicted only on ourselves, not on the land and all it nurtures. We don’t think about how this place is hitched to everything else in the universe.

What would it look like if we reciprocated at SDC? What would it look like if we abandoned the idea that this land’s future, and our own futures, are best decided by economic feasibility? What would it look like if we abandoned the idea that only by building more homes can we build more homes we can afford? What would it look like if we changed our politics and stopped calling each other names? What would it look like if we left behind the climate center, the historic district, the maker space, the coffee shop, the park?

What would it look like if, instead of needy and demanding, we were simply grateful? Would we temper our demands? Would we look with new appreciation at what is already here? Would we bring buckets of water to dampen the roots of thirsty trees? Would we sweep the sidewalks? Would we bring paint to the old buildings, to revive their tired walls, inside and out? Would we open the windows to let the fresh air in?

What would it look like? What would the land do? Everything and nothing, would be my guess. It would just be. It would continue to do the unappreciated things it does for us right now, in this moment. It would breathe for us, slow us down, let us sit and walk and play and just be ourselves, on it, with it, without judgement, without knowing us or labeling us or determining our value.

photo by Marc Longisto

And in this moment — a moment that stretches back to when a shovel first broke the earth to build a home, and stretches ahead to when someone drives a shovel into the earth and breaks it again — we can reciprocate. We can look closely at what we want and why we want it. We can be thankful; grateful. Then, maybe, instead of taking more, we will see a way to take nothing; to borrow only what is offered.

Tracy Salcedo is board member of SMP and an award-winning writer who lives and works in Glen Ellen. This essay originally appeared in the Kenwood Press.

Nov 022022

Meg Beeler: Carrying the Voice of the Mountain, Building Connection

This is the fourth of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Meg Beeler, SMP’s Chair for ten years, lives on the mountain. She is an author and Shamanic Guide, founder of Earth Caretakers Wisdom School, master gardener, and lifelong explorer of shamanic, animist, and meditative consciousness. She was formerly a Silicon Valley consultant and author of many technical books. Her lifelong passions—soul healing, heart opening, and reweaving the connections between all beings—feed her activist and healing work. Meg practices Earth-centered, nature-based, Andean mysticism and leads land-based community ceremonies. Meg is the author of Weave the Heart of the Universe into Your Life: Aligning with Cosmic Energy and a contributing author and photographer to Where the World Begins. megbeeler.com

What is your relationship with Sonoma Mountain? 

Deep and loving! I live on the mountain and draw sustenance from her spirit. I walk her flanks and explore her mysteries daily. And as a member of SMP’s Board, I speak for the mountain and advocate for her whole ecosystem, including humans, creatures, plant communities, fire, water, geology, and so on.

When did you join the SMP Board, and what drew you to it? 

I googled the mountain and found SMP as soon as I moved here, 17 years ago! The founders—Pat Eliot, Mickey Cooke, and others—were amazing humans whom I wanted to know better. I loved being around and learning from people who knew the landscape deeply and were advocates for its beauty, preservation, and access. About ten years ago I was surprised and honored when they asked me to be Board Chair. 

One of my aims has been to bring the spirit of the mountain into all our advocacy. Working collaboratively with so many community members and organizations for the open space and sustainability of Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) has been one piece. Publishing our beautiful, award-winning Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images, and the accompanying education about the whole mountain has been another.

What do you do for SMP? 

I hold our vision for deepening people’s awareness, access, appreciation, and reciprocity with the Mountain. Supporting the all-volunteer Board members means encouraging their strengths, appreciating them, and having fun together. As a quasi-CEO—we have only part-time administrative staff—I keep us focused on our strategy and the many threads of our work, keep us accountable, and follow up on the many operational details. Above all, I bring the Mountain’s interests with me into every Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission testimony and into every letter I write. 

For SDC, it’s meant nine years of meetings, learning to read and comment on Environmental Impact Reports, and advocating for the open space transfer and riparian zone protection over and over and over.

Do you see your work as a shamanic guide reflected in your work with SMP?

Oh yes. I was always a mountain person and earth caretaker. When I learned shamanic practice, I improved my ability to listen to the mountains and trees, speak with the spirits of the land, and make offerings and ceremonies for them. My practice comes from the Andes, where mountains and stars dominate the landscape, and also from what’s called core shamanic journeying. My indigenous teachers came out of hiding because of prophecies about these times; they wanted to help us re-member our deep connection and reciprocal ways of living within the web of life. It’s my passion to carry these ways into the world and empower folks. 

What would you like to see in the future for Sonoma Mountain? 

SMP supports conserving and preserving 50% of the wild lands of the Sonoma Mountains, not just 30% by 2030, which is the goal of the 100-country-strong international conservation campaign. So far, the Sonoma Mountains are 21% protected. We want to extend the Ridge Trail so that the quarter-million people living around the mountain can experience the whole. We dream of connecting every nearby school child with Sonoma Mountain so their connection to nature and sense of place fuels their engagement and gives them solace.

What are your favorite memories of Sonoma Mountain? 

When I first began hiking the mountain, I felt like an adventurer because many trails were not marked or mapped. Arthur Dawson told me generally where Grandmother Redwood was, so Tom and I sleuthed our way around until we found it. I love sitting silently with her, and also to bring people to experience this 2,000-year-old remnant of what was a vast redwood forest on Sonoma Mountain. Now she reaches towards me when I arrive; we have a relationship.

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Oct 022022

Larry Modell, Lafferty, and the Petaluma Perspective

This is the third of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Larry Modell grew up in Mill Valley and became an avid hiker on Tamalpais and Marin’s coastal hills. After graduating from UC Berkeley and working as a professional musician in Los Angeles for several years, he returned to the North Bay in 1982 and worked as a “data nerd” (data modeler and database designer) for several organizations including Fair, Isaac in San Rafael and American AgCredit in Santa Rosa. Living in east Petaluma at the base of Sonoma Mountain, and mentored by such luminaries as Bill Kortum and Pat Eliot, Larry has become a leading advocate for local public lands, trails, and open space with Friends of Lafferty Park, Petaluma Tomorrow, and now Sonoma Mountain Preservation. He has raised two daughters with his wife Joani, who still live and work in Sonoma County and are still willing to go on hikes with Dad. 

What is your connection to Sonoma Mountain?

Sonoma Mountain commands the viewshed of the Petaluma Valley, especially eastern Petaluma, where I have lived since 1984. It is the signature landform for the area and the county’s namesake. I live next to a street called Sonoma Mountain Parkway, and my kids attended Sonoma Mountain Elementary School. All the local creeks have their headwaters on that mountain. Imagine my surprise at learning there was no place I could hike or explore the part of the mountain that faced Petaluma! 

When and how did you join the SMP Board? 

I attended several SMP meetings, often with Bill Kortum, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when George Ellman and Pat Eliot were in the leadership. More recently, my longtime friend and fellow activist Matt Maguire was on the board, and he asked me to take over his “Petaluma perspective” when he was no longer able to serve. I officially joined in late 2021.  

What is “Friends of Lafferty Park,” and how are you involved? 

Friends of Lafferty Park (FLP) is an all-volunteer community advocacy group centered in Petaluma and its surrounding areas. Originally its purpose was to encourage the City of Petaluma to keep Lafferty, that is, to not privatize it via sale as was proposed in the 1990s, and then to open it for appropriate public access. I have been in the leadership of Friends of Lafferty Park and its predecessors since the early 1990s.

Friends of Lafferty Park, along with Landpaths, is currently working with the City of Petaluma to open Lafferty Ranch as a wildland park or open space preserve with public access modeled after the best practices in the region, such as Marin County’s open space lands. 

How did Landpaths become involved? 

The City of Petaluma has contracted with LandPaths to lead the community through a program of limited public access to the Lafferty Ranch property.  This limited public access is expected to lead to full public access in the future, following environmental studies and (minimal) infrastructure. LandPaths is the ideal partner, with extensive experience organizing such programs throughout the region, excellent outreach to underserved communities, and a sterling reputation in our County.

For what purpose did you attend SMP board meetings in the 1990s and early 2000s?  

Bill Kortum and I reported developments regarding Lafferty Ranch and other news from the Petaluma side of the mountain. We also advocated for parks, trails, and public open space throughout the mountain. In the early 2000s, SMP was working to influence several important Sonoma County planning documents, including the Outdoor Recreation Plan, the General Plan, and the Agriculture & Open Space Acquisition Plan.

What would you say to those who are against opening Lafferty Park to the public?

We’re ready to be good neighbors!  Plenty of landowners elsewhere in the region have come to regard well-managed public open spaces as ideal neighbors, benefitting both the environment and property values.  

There is also a significant cost to leaving wildlands like Lafferty unused. Twice in recent years, we have had to clean up illegal marijuana grows on that property and their devastating pollution of creeks and wetlands. Those will not happen once hikers are enjoying the property regularly. 

Historically, SMP has been largely focused on the east side of the mountain, as that is where is was founded; how do you see SMP becoming more involved in the west side of the mountain?

Petaluma’s relationship with Sonoma Mountain has been less intimate in recent decades than that of the Sonoma Valley. I believe that is because the Petaluma side of the mountain has been almost entirely privatized. Opening Lafferty Ranch to the public will begin to reestablish a sense of connection and stewardship. 

SMP has always supported Petaluma’s efforts to keep and open Lafferty Ranch. I hope to be a gentle voice of encouragement within SMP to support additional parks, trails, preserves, and public access on all of Sonoma Mountain, including the Petaluma side.

Do you have a favorite memory or story about Sonoma Mountain? 

How about an inspirational quote?  I’ve been sharing this one on recent outings: 

   So, if there is any central and commanding hilltop, it should be reserved for the public use.  
   … That area should be left unappropriated for modesty and reverence’s sake—if only to suggest that the traveller who climbs thither in a degree rises above himself, as well as his native valley, and leaves some of his grovelling habits behind.
    … I think that each town should have a park, or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, either in one body or several—a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.

    — From “Wild Fruits” by Henry David Thoreau

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Sep 022022

The Life and Times of Nancy Evers Kirwan

This is the second of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Nancy Evers Kirwan is a native of the Bay Area. She currently lives at the base of Sonoma Mountain on property owned by her family since 1956. After studying attending UC Santa Cruz and then law at Hastings, Nancy practiced law in San Francisco for ten years. She then moved to Los Angeles for 35 years, where she attended UCLA and worked as a landscape architect for 35 years while volunteering her time in programs that support hospitalized and at-risk kids. Finally, she returned to her childhood property at the foot of Sonoma Mountain, determined to be active in the environmental arena. She joined the SMP board at the request of Pat Eliot toward the end of her life. Nancy currently serves as board secretary and does outreach. 

What is your relationship with Sonoma Mountain?

My family has had property at the base of Sonoma Mountain since 1956, which they bought from the Van Hoosears of the Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve. My parents built a house there, which was finished in 1960. That’s where I live now. 

I was nine when the house was finished. We spent summers and most weekends away from the city in our Sonoma refuge. Sonoma Mountain was always my escape valve. My contact with the natural world. My place to dream and imagine. Climb trees, run in the field, ride up over the mountain. It made me who I am. It gave me independence. 

What drew you to join the SMP board? 

I became a member of Sonoma Mountain Preservation because Pat Eliot asked me to. Pat Eliot was a good friend of my mother’s, and later to me. She had been extraordinarily nice to my mother as she was dying, a favor that can never be repaid. So, I attended a meeting or two, and then I was voted in. 

What do you do for Sonoma Mountain Preservation?

I am the board secretary and part of the Outreach Committee. I’m interested in expanding our base of operation to be more inclusive of younger people, people from various backgrounds and with different points of view.  

I am also in charge of our booth at the annual Glen Ellen Village Fair, and I have been active in the SDC battle: making reports, writing letters, attending meetings, and making comments. 

What other Community Organizations and projects do you work on? 

I am on the Board of Sonoma Plein Air and the volunteer coordinator for the Plein Air Art Festival. I am on the Advisory Boards of the Garden Park and Jack London Historic Park, and I am Secretary of the board of the Grove Street Fire Safe Council. And I am also a Steward of the Sonoma Overlook Trail and on the Leadership Council/Circle for the Sonoma Ecology Center. I get around and I love what I do. 

What do you do when you aren’t working with the organizations? 

I work in my garden, cook delicious meals, hike, play pickleball, read, and walk with friends. We used to fish a lot, but that has been fewer and farther apart recently due to a number of factors. 

What would you like to see in the future for Sonoma Mountain? 

I would like to see the majority of the Mountain as protected open space with numerous access points and a fair number of trails without formal public control. Like the walking trails in England and Europe. It would be good if it were a link in the Bay Area Ridge Trail. 

What are your best memories of Sonoma Mountain? 

My favorite recent memories of Sonoma Mountain are the New Year’s Day hikes that we do at SMP, to greet the new year.

As a girl, I used to ride up through the George Ranch and the Anderson Ranch to the top of the ridge and look down on Petaluma. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. As an adult, we bushwhacked into the falls. They are wonderfully impressive. 

Truly, growing up with trees to climb, the mountain to explore, and fields to play in was a significant factor in my decision to follow my heart and leave law and go into landscape architecture. 

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Aug 032022

Getting to know Tracy Salcedo, SMP Board

This is the first of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Tracy Salcedo lives on the skirts of Sonoma Mountain in Glen Ellen and is the author of more than 25 guidebooks to destinations in California and Colorado; mountains are Tracy’s inspiration. She wrote the chapter on recreation for SMP’s beautiful book Where the World Begins, Sonoma Mountain Stories and ImagesTracy Salcedo is a little bit new and a little bit old on the SMP board. She first joined in 2000 but took a hiatus due to the extra work of family life, rejoining in 2020. Besides being a board member and writer, she is also an editor and librarian. She holds a degree in Anthropology from UC Berkeley. 

You have obviously been around considering all the books you have written. Where are you from and how did you end up in Glen Ellen?

I was born in San Francisco and raised partly in Daly City, partly in Fairfax in Marin County. Then, I lived in Colorado for 15 years after finishing college at UC Berkeley. When my kids were very young, we decided to move back to California to be with family, all of whom live in Marin. We couldn’t afford anything there, so we settled in Glen Ellen — which turned out to be the perfect place for us.

What drew you to join the SMP board? 

I had started volunteering for land conservation nonprofits while living in Colorado (PlanJeffco and the Mountain Area Land Trust) and wanted to continue to support open space preservation upon our return to California. I started as a volunteer with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust but wanted to bring it closer to home in Glen Ellen since I had a young family at the time. So I looked in my backyard. I found SMP through friends who knew the Ellmans and the Eliots.

What were the earlier days of SMP like?

The board is a lot like it is now — the meeting of like-minded people with a passion for preserving as much as they can of wildland and open spaces in the area. Back in the early 2000s, the group was focused on linking parcels along Sonoma Mountain’s ridgeline, including the McCrea property, and providing public access via extending the Ridge Trail. The idea was to bring people onto the mountain and help ensure her integrity as a valley backdrop and icon. I was welcomed on the board but, as I was a busy parent, couldn’t contribute nearly as much as I wanted; the heavy lifting and the political and bureaucratic work was done by the Eliots, the Ellmans, Helen, Mickey, and Marilyn. They were the movers and shakers.

How are things different at SMP, more than two decades after you first joined? 

Things are obviously different, given the changing of the guard, but they are also the same. Board members today are just as dedicated to the mountain as they were twenty years ago. However, they face different challenges and have cultivated new connections. They’ve been welcoming board members from the other side of the mountain, like Petaluma and Penngrove. SMP is also building educational components. 

What are your main focuses in SMP right now? 

My current focus is on the SDC — making sure the open space, both on the mountain itself as well as across Arnold Drive (Lake Suttonfield) is fully and permanently protected, and then (hopefully) ensuring the development of the campus doesn’t mess with the quality of that preservation.

What is your most memorable story about being on the SMP Board?

We held a summit meeting on a property at the mountain’s summit a few years back. It was the first time I’d ever been to the top; being a resident of Glen Ellen, I’d always approached from the other side, where fences keep you off the top. I knew I was in the right place — I had found my tribe in many ways during that summit, but the moment it crystalized was when board member Kim Batchelder led us to the pile of rocks that marks the high point and assured us that he’d banged around on them to let the rattlesnakes know that we were coming.

Do you have a good story about Sonoma Mountain?

Ha! Yeah, I’ve got lots of stories, but the one that springs to mind is when I fell on a steep trail linking Jack London SHP to the SDC and broke my ankle. I walk all over that side of the mountain all the time, sometimes fully present, sometimes thoughtlessly, sometimes preoccupied, but most often all of the above. The mountain took me down a notch that day, thankfully. She reminded me to pay attention, that every footfall is important.

What books are you most proud of? Which books were the most fun to create?

I am most proud of my guidebook to Lassen Volcanic National Park. It was my first “big” guide — I researched and wrote the first edition shortly after we returned to California in the late 1990s. I have learned so much by revisiting the park again and again over the years. Lassen Volcanic has given me a great gift: The National Outdoor Book Award, which I won for the third edition in 2020. It’s hard to explain, but it felt reciprocal, like somehow the park was telling me she loves me as much as I love her.

As far as what I’m finding most fun to create, writing essays about experiences in the parks are a ton of fun. I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from not only writing about how to get to incredible places, but also ways people might experience those places more completely, whether through cultural history, natural history, or personal narrative. Creative nonfiction has become my storytelling vehicle of choice.

What do you love the most about Sonoma Mountain?

I love that she’s here. I love her mass, her variety, her accessibility. She’s the foundation for what I call home, and I am grateful to be able to give back in any small way.

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Jul 062022

Winners Announced for Sonoma Mountain Photo Contest! #SonomaMountainPhotoContest

Congratulations to the winners of our first Sonoma Mountain Photo Contest. Our theme was “A Sense of Place.” We had a great time viewing all your beautiful and proud images of Sonoma Mountain. Our first-place winner is the gorgeous “View of Carriger Creek Watershed” taken by Eric Hongisto of Penngrove. You can see two more images of his in the finalists’ gallery below. His pictures of Sonoma Mountain capture the wonder of its perennial creeks, forests, and ancient volcanic formations along the Rogers Creek Fault. Eric is an art professor at the University of San Francisco. You can see more of his work at www.erichongisto.net

Click on any image to view full size.

Our second-place winner is Vickie Wilde with her photograph "Misty Mountain." She lives part-time in Petaluma and part-time in Montecito. "Sonoma Mountain is a place where there is ever changing wonder and delight, where I'm fortunate to call home," she wrote to us. "The photo was shot on a sunny, bright, warm day in downtown Petaluma, but as I was driving up Sonoma Mountain, a cloud had settled on the mountain top creating a mystic scene in which I could not resist shooting a photo through the windshield of my car." 

This leaping hare, captured by Leo Merle, takes third place. It was taken on top of Grove Street, Sonoma Mountain, where he has lived since 1976. He calls it, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.” Leo was a freelance editorial photographer in San Francisco with cover credits in numerous popular publications. He continues to capture beautiful images to share with friends, neighbors, and colleagues in Sonoma and beyond. His photography is on permanent display his office at 470 First Street East, Sonoma.

We had a lot of great images to choose from and are excited to share all the finalist images for all to enjoy some of the wonders of the mountain. Below are the other seven images that made it to the finalist list.

Apr 252022

Creating the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail

by Kim Batchelder, Natural Resources Planner, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space

“My first assignment for Sonoma Ag + Open Space was to develop the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. I remember visiting a small redwood grove on Jacobs Ranch – the proposed launching site for this magnificent trail—and just feeling exuberant about the idea of creating a path across such a spectacular landscape.”

Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) has a diverse and multi-faceted mission. This mission includes the protection of scenic corridors, watersheds, greenbelts, agricultural lands and recreation. However, this mission would be impossible to complete in isolation. So Ag + Open Space has a long history of partnership with local and state partners and agencies that manage our parks and preserves. One project that highlights this collaborative effort is the North Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail (“North Sonoma Mountain Trail”). Starting back in March 2005, Ag + Open Space embarked on the construction of a trail from Jacobs Ranch, off of Sonoma Mountain Road in Bennett Valley, to Jack London State Historic Park.

The vision for the trail had its genesis in two innovative efforts that had begun fifteen years before. In 1990, Sonoma County voters approved one of the first “public land trusts” in the United States to protect agricultural and open space lands through a quarter-cent sales tax. Since then, Ag + Open Space –that “public land trust” – has protected over 118,000 acres, including almost 3,750 acres on and around Sonoma Mountain. In 1992, the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council was formed with the ambitious vision of creating a 550-mile path along the ridge tops around San Francisco Bay. Today there are over 375 miles of dedicated Ridge Trail throughout the Bay Area.

The North Sonoma Mountain Trail got its start in 2003 when Ag + Open Space purchased the 168-acre Jacobs Ranch.

Over the next two years, the agency acquired the 47-acre Skiles Ranch and 226- acre Cooper’s Grove. Other critical pieces to the puzzle were an 11-acre property donated by the Roth Family (who also gave the land for Fairfield Osborn Preserve) and the 84-acre Sonoma Mountain Woodlands parcel, originally given to Regional Parks to mitigate the impacts of a nearby subdivision. Finally, all the pieces were assembled for a trail that could gently climb from Jacobs Ranch for nearly five miles along the north slope to a high point near the top of the mountain.

In 2005, the California State Coastal Conservancy approved a planning grant to help Ag + Open Space plan the trail. A technical Advisory Committee was formed that included the landowners, Ag + Open Space, Regional and State Parks, and the project’s funders–the Coastal Conservancy and Bay Area Ridge Trail Council. Financial and technical resources were pooled to bring in top trail designers with decades of experience. These included Don Beers of State Parks, Steve Ehret from Regional Parks, and Ridge Trail Steward John Aranson. Each of these individuals, agencies and organizations contributed to quality control and oversight—assisting Ag + Open Space in working through the design, environmental review and permitting processes. Under their guidance, an optimal trail alignment was laid out and features were established at the trailhead to meet the needs of equestrians, pedestrians, and cyclists

A groundbreaking event took place on June 20, 2010 when construction of the North Sonoma Mountain Trail began at Jack London State Park. Simultaneously the acquisition of Sonoma Mountain’s summit with the purchase of the 283-acre Sonoma Mountain Ranch was celebrated. This completed the footprint for the 820- acre North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve. It took another two and a half years to finish trail construction, trailhead development, access road improvements, and signage to complete the entire 4.5 mile trail. Another 1.4 miles, called the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, were added in 2014, south of the state park. The East Slope Trail offers panoramic views of the Mayacamas Mountains and Sonoma Valley, as well as San Pablo Bay and Mt. Diablo to the south and east.

Ag + Open Space learned many lessons in reaching these ambitious trail goals. Most impressive was the collaboration of so many partners, neighbors, and volunteers. Not-for-profit groups such as LandPaths and Sonoma County Trails Council engaged people and rallied supporters to provide input for features that could be offered to the public. Government agencies secured matching financial resources to contribute to construction costs on State Park land, and neighbors provided access for construction equipment and materials to remote trail sections.

The partners who envisioned and built this trail faced many challenges. Yet persistence, a long-term vision and committed collaboration among partners, advocates and funders resulted in an amazing trail that is thoroughly enjoyed by Sonoma County residents and tourists alike.

[Reprinted from Sonoma Mountain Journal Vol.19, Number1.]

Click the image of the map for the PDF.
Nov 122020

Glen Ellen and Eldridge/SDC Are Inseparable: 
This Reality Needs to Be Reflected in The SDC Specific Plan

This clear and impassioned description of the relationship between Glen Ellen and Eldridge/SDC was written by Tracey Salcedo, Glen Ellen resident and member of the Leadership Team of the SDC Coalition. As work on the SDC Specific Plan continues, SMP supports this view.

After a long lull, the specific planning process for the former Sonoma Development Center property is kicking back into gear. The focus is on Eldridge, but the fact is that, given the intimate ties between Eldridge and Glen Ellen, my little hometown is also entering a brave new phase of its existence.

As I’ve encountered proposals for Eldridge and participated in the planning process, I’ve been struck by the fact that, over and over again, the ties between the two places are either overlooked or misunderstood. While I find it disappointing that explaining the ties would be necessary at this stage of the game, it’s also an opportunity. And it has an unanticipated upside: I’ve once again fallen in love with you, Glen Ellen. 

The Basics 

  • Glen Ellen and Eldridge are inseparable. If you look at a map, you’ll see that Eldridge is completely surrounded by Glen Ellen. As one local community leader put it, Eldridge is the hole in the Glen Ellen donut.
  • What happens to Eldridge happens to Glen Ellen. If Eldridge becomes a resort, Glen Ellen becomes a resort. If Eldridge is urbanized, Glen Ellen is urbanized. If Eldridge becomes a model of sustainability and resiliency, Glen Ellen becomes a model of sustainability and resiliency.
  • Eldridge is not a blank slate. Eldridge is now empty, hence the illusion. But Eldridge exists as part of Glen Ellen. Since their genesis in the nineteenth century, the twin villages have grown in tandem and possess the same intimate connections to the region’s wild places and to a legacy of caring. This connection can’t be monetized, but that doesn’t make the connection less valuable than money.

Glen Ellen in a Nutshell

  • Glen Ellen is a small, tight-knit, rural village of about 700 households at its center, and more within the sprawling 95442 zip code.
  • This language comes from the Land Use element of Sonoma County’s General Plan: Glen Ellen is a small village along Arnold Drive west of State Highway 12 … About 70 percent of the community is rural with rural residential and agricultural zoning.
  • From the Glen Ellen Development and Design Guidelines: The small town character of Glen Ellen promotes a sense of community and an inherent openness which recognizes personal freedoms and varied lifestyles. The maintenance and enhancement of this small town character is of utmost importance to its residents.
  • On the ground, Glen Ellen’s rural residential character looks like this: Homes on the north side of the Eldridge campus are on larger parcels, with the exception of those closest to the “downtown” area. It’s country living. On the south side of the Eldridge campus homes are closer together, but the mood is the same. It’s still country living. Whether you live in the apartments on Madrone or tucked in the woods on London Ranch Road, you live in a small town. You know the people in line with you at the grocery store. You meet up with neighbors to take a walk in the park or along the winding country roads. Your kids go to school and play sports with the neighbor kids, while you volunteer with the neighbors in classrooms or visit on the sidelines. You dance in the streets with your neighbors every October during the village fair.
  • A growing number of second home owners have purchased in Glen Ellen for the same reason full-time residents do—because it is rural, charming, and friendly. These part-time residents boost the economy of Sonoma Valley when they’re in town, while their absences add to the quiet of village life.

A Matter of Scale

The argument that Eldridge should be able to accommodate thousands of residents and workers because it used to house and employ thousands of residents and workers is not valid. At its most populous, most of the residents of Eldridge did not leave Eldridge. They couldn’t, because they were disabled. To drop an equal number of people who are not disabled into the same place doesn’t replicate Eldridge, it blows Eldridge up (and Glen Ellen with it). 

Many wonderful, innovative ideas have been proposed as part of the redevelopment process. Data collated as part of the previous community workshops supports these ideals. Bring on housing that’s affordable. Bring on housing for the developmentally disabled. Bring on community gardens and biodiverse agriculture. Bring on post-petroleum technologies. Bring on sustainable businesses. Bring on an “institute” that researches and implements principles of resiliency. Bring on visiting scholars. Bring on innovation.

But bring it on at a scale that both fits and benefits the village that already exists, on both sides of SDC. Bring it on recognizing that the existing village already embraces and lives by these ideals. Bring it on at a scale that ensures the children of local residents, as well as the greater community, can find their place here. Bring it on at the scale that enables the residents of the existing village to feel safe, and that cultivates, rather than dilutes, the small-town, natural values that drew us here and have kept us here.

To do this, it must be understood that the existing village is as important as the goal.

The Importance of Transparency

A number of proposals have emerged, developed by small groups of people reimagining what can happen on the property. There’s CEPEC, there’s the SDC Campus Project, there’s CAFF, there’s the Eldridge Enterprise, and there are other plans, without doubt, in the works.

The assumption of some committee members of the Glen Ellen Forum, and of the larger community, has been that the specific planning process, and the proposals it generates, would be community-driven. Most of the circulating proposals remain outside the specific planning process. The Eldridge Enterprise, developed by a “working group” of the SDC Coalition, is a troubling exception, especially as it begins recruiting endorsements. It is not community-driven. The specific planning process for Eldridge must remain transparent, otherwise trust in a community-driven process is broken.

The Myth of NIMBY

With the formation of the Glen Ellen Forum in 2016, Glen Ellen has helped host forward-facing community workshops to shape a vision and guiding principles for Eldridge’s redevelopment. The community’s approach to that redevelopment is pragmatic and realistic, but constrained by the realities of being unincorporated.

We know change is inevitable. All we want—and I feel confident saying “we” here, because Glen Ellenites helped collate the feedback from the Hanna and Dunbar workshops—is for change to be moderated so that the existing community survives and has the ability to define itself, even as it absorbs change. The interests of the immediate community should carry the same weight as the interests of prospective developers, the broader community, and private, commercial, nonprofit, and political interests.

A Vision for Eldridge

“Eldridge is a place where people of diverse backgrounds and interests live and work together, where natural resources are conserved and enhanced, concepts of sustainability and resiliency are put into practice, cultural legacies are honored, and compatibility with surrounding communities is preserved.

—Vision Statement Developed for Community Consideration at the Hanna Workshop, June 2019

As we’ve had to circle up, yet again, to create a vision for the site, I feel like we, as representatives from Glen Ellen, are now outside the process. We are forced to be reactive to proposals developed outside the process, rather than proactive in helping develop proposals. In light of recent developments, I have to ask: What does community-driven mean? To me, it means that no matter where proposals originate, whether in the city of Sonoma, or Oakmont, or Santa Rosa, or the hills of Healdsburg, they reflect not only the desires of their proponents, but also an understanding of what is fundamental: Glen Ellen and Eldridge are inseparable. What happens to Eldridge happens to Glen Ellen.

Look at it this way: Glen Ellen is the village about to be inundated by the dam. The powers-that-be believe the dam is a greater good, and the little village in the valley should just roll over and accept obliteration. My response is, if you inundate Glen Ellen and Eldridge—their rural characters, the peace that comes when you drive up Arnold Drive into the embrace of oaks and open space—you destroy exactly what you seek to exploit.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The residents of Glen Ellen will be the most profoundly impacted of all communities by what happens in Eldridge. Everyone else gets to go home, but we have to live with it—the density, the traffic, the change. All we want to do is inform that change.

Community is priceless. And worth fighting for.

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