Fair and Just Access to our Coastal Commons
Land Partners Through Stewardship – or LandPaths as it’s better known – was founded in 1997 to manage access and stewardship at a new addition to a State Park unit here in Sonoma County. At the time we were told that this was the first and only partnership for management of a State Park by a nonprofit in California, save for a historic flower garden in downtown Santa Barbara.
Our management of this new 1100-acre park in 1997 – followed soon after by the 3400 acre Willow Creek addition to Sonoma Coast State Park for a period of ten years – was only possible because of at first dozens, and then hundreds, of volunteers powering our work on the ground. In this equation of energized volunteers plus nonprofit organization, we did not treat our public lands as though they belonged to agencies headquartered a two-hour drive away. We treated them, and still do to this day, as The Commons that belongs to us all. People take action - people take care of - those things that they feel a kinship for. In Sonoma County – there is a deep kinship with the mosaic of working landscapes and wildlands that comprise our home, our place.
In the summer of 2007 LandPaths decided to do something besides pointing the finger at government in order to address the disconnect between people of color and the region’s parks. We envisioned and built a 2½-acre urban park that looks and functions like a working farm in downtown Santa Rosa. Eight years later the Bayer Farm has been featured in magazine articles, documentary films and heralded as a model at countless conferences across the country. More importantly, it has gained LandPaths a semblance of trust by groups of people long forgotten by the conservation movement. The farm gives people from 14 different languages, Vietnam Vets and urbanites looking for a relationship with soil, the chance to farm, break bread and engage in dialogue together outside in a shared commons.
If the Bayer Farm brought us relevance in the Latino and other communities consistently underserved by the simple equation of access to land equals health, it has been our program – Inspired Forward – that has brought our work increasing relevance to addressing health and wellness to Youth in the past four years.
On March 23 a group of Inspired Forward teens finished a four-day walk from Monte Rio to the Sonoma Coast across lands public and private by permission, camping and eating local farm foods and never stepping into a vehicle for the 20-mile journey. Two of these students – from park-underrepresented households, themselves US Citizens and 4.0 students – had never seen the ocean until they topped out on the coastal ridge. Are these not part of the palette of young people that reflect our county, our promise, our future of engaged citizenry inspired by the land and water that is the foundation of all of our social, economic and biotic capital? Do we want to create yet another barrier for access to the beauty that is Sonoma County?
We at LandPaths are passionate about fair access to land for the betterment of the long-term sustaining of natural systems and human communities. Through time-tested and strong partnerships with our County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and State Coastal Conservancy, LandPaths has pioneered public access for tens of thousands of people in the past 19 years. And because of these partnerships, in addition to the dedication of volunteers across the cultural and socio-demographic spectrum, and buoyed by contributions from school children’s penny-drives and family foundations alike, we’ve provided this access for free.
Perhaps the powers that be in the State of California should think yet again about allocating funding for State Parks, so that it isn’t placed into a position where it feels the need to place a fee on such an elemental California experience, of standing by the shoreline and inhaling the wind off the Pacific.
LandPaths has been transformed for the better by the inclusion of all people across the spectrums of ethnicity, education, gender identity, economic well-being and life experience.
Perhaps more than any other of California’s fifty-eight counties, Sonoma is defined in large part by the raw beauty of its landscape, its flora and fauna, its wildlands and working landscapes. Please help us to insure that all people are welcomed - regardless of abundance or paucity of pocket change - to stand above the ocean bluff or walk on the sand and savor what is great about our county and country.
Contents (c) 2008 by Land Partners Through Stewardship (Landpaths) Site Credits