Early Years: 1996 – 1999
LandPaths was founded in 1996 to manage the 1500-acre McCormick Ranch property adjacent to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. At the time, California State Parks were under severe financial cuts. LandPaths was established to fill the gap, taking a people-powered, all hands in the dirt, approach to stewardship of the property.
In 1998, we launched our first free Community Outings program. It was in direct response to community demand; Local folks (and voters) were ready to see with their own eyes what their tax dollars were making possible on lands purchased by the Sonoma County Ag and Open District.
At the time, we became the first local conservation group to offer outings that weren’t member-restricted. In fact, LandPaths has never been based on a membership model!
Along with public outings on open space preserves, we grew our people-powered stewardship volunteer program. Our projects including stabilizing the banks at the headwaters of the Santa Rosa Creek, building trails on Sonoma Mountain, and land restoration at McCormick Ranch.
Born of a vision sketched on a napkin at a downtown diner, in 1999 our executive director Craig Anderson and programs director Lee Hackeling launched our award-winning environmental education program In Our Own Backyard (IOOBY). Twenty years later, IOOBY has impacted thousands of Sonoma County schoolchildren.
That same year saw LandPaths’ first land acquisition. With the help of Friends of the Grove and Stewards of the Redwoods, we purchased 28-acres of old-growth redwoods in Occidental. Known as The Grove of Old Trees and now expanded to 50 acres, this is the only privately held, publically accessible free open space in the county.
In the early years, LandPaths also refined our goals and values centered around access, stewardship, and environmental education. “We were a conservation organization that was interested in community,” says Craig.
Gaining Ground: 2000 – 2006
In 2002, we piloted a model of free permit-based access, now replicated by county parks and open space agencies, at Willow Creek. Subsequently, we invested $700,000 in watershed restoration on the property. In 2003, we were selected for the Coastal Conservancy’s Diversity Initiative, broadening and amplifying our goal of branching out conservation for everyone.
Between 2000 and 2006, we also grew from three employees (and a home office in Craig and Lee’s house) to eight employees and an actual office space! The organization grew as well: Our outings filled up consistently, our volunteer force bloomed, and IOOBY had a waitlist. In 2002, seeing a gap in connected teens with nature, we launched Adventures in the Big Outside, which was directed at teens and vulnerable youth populations. Food took a more prominent place on our radar and we began to explore how to combine agriculture with urban nature, a journey that culminated in Bayer Farm.
In 2006, with the generous support of the Riddell family and a neighborhood donor, we acquired Riddell Preserve, 400 acres of wild beauty near Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Valley. The acquisition allowed for an expansion of our programs to get people connected with local land into North County.
Branching Out: 2006 – 2015
In 2007, we broke ground on Bayer Farm in the Roseland neighborhood of Santa Rosa. In 2009, we developed our Spanish language outings program, Vamos Afuera, which continues to this day. The next year, we launched TrekSonoma, a pilot initiative that got people outside for multi-day treks across Sonoma County, allowing an immersion into nature outside of the automobile.
In 2009, we were critical to protecting the 3,000-acre Willow Creek addition, managing public access and stewardship of the property until it was handed over to Sonoma Coast State Park a few years later.
In 2014, we participated in the Portrait of Sonoma County Leadership group. We started new programs based on the study’s findings about the inequities that plague Sonoma County. One result was iREad Outside, our early literacy program that combines the fun of nature, the wonder of reading, and the need to encourage and support family reading.
We also continued to expand our youth programming outside of schools with Owl Camp, Russian River Teen Trek, Backcountry Basics, and more. These camps programs, for youth aged 5 to young adult, are driven by proactive recruitment and robust scholarships to ensure a diverse camper body. Devastated by the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, we launched Inspired Forward, specifically to integrate environmental education and youth leadership mentoring.
Growing Community: 2015 – 2019
In 2015, we were instrumental to the community effort to protect Fitch Mountain. We continue to partner with the City of Healdsburg on stewardship and volunteer opportunities there, and at the Healdsburg Open Space Preserve. We also expanded our programming and impact in Santa Rosa, continuing to grow Bayer Farm on land owned by the City of Rosa in Roseland.
With generous assistance from the California Coastal Conservancy, LandPaths purchased Rancho Mark West in 2011.Under the unique terms of this purchase, Jim and Betty Doerkson, have a reserved life estate on the unique property. Rancho Mark West has become a beloved site for IOOBY, Owl Camp, public outings, holiday and seasonal gatherings, and more.
In 2012, Ted and Phyllis Swindells donated the 554-acre Bohemia Ecological Preserve property to LandPaths, in close collaboration with Sonoma Land Trust, opening up a West County protected land for similar programming.
In 2018, we broke ground on a community garden at Andy’s Unity Park in southwest Santa Rosa. The garden was a response to community demand for a space similar to Bayer Farm, where the neighborhood could gather for gardening, potlucks, and a feeling of warm belonging and safety. We also continued the expansion of our bilingual programming with the hiring of four new bilingual staff members through 2019.
That year also brought the acquisition of Oceansong Preserve off Coleman Valley Road in West Sonoma County. More than 400 acres of protected land, the property brings yet another opportunity to connect people with the land.