2012-02-19 "Bohemia Ranch with waterfall saved from developers" by Peter Fimrite from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Two nonprofit conservation groups struck an innovative land deal last week that will permanently protect from development a forested 862-acre tract with a large waterfall in western Sonoma County.
The rugged area, known as Bohemia Ranch, is a picturesque landscape full of rare plants, redwood trees and a 30-foot waterfall next to the famous Bohemian Grove, between Occidental and Monte Rio.
The $1.45 million deal, by the Sonoma Land Trust and LandPaths, will create a 554-acre nature preserve and include conservation easements over the entire property.
"We have preserved the best and most sensitive habitat from development," said Bob Neale, the stewardship director for Sonoma Land Trust. "It's just spectacular property that is definitely worth saving."
The Sonoma Land Trust purchased a conservation easement that removed all development rights over four of the six parcels using money donated by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The other 352 acres were sold by the owners, Ted and Phyllis Swindells, to a family, which will be allowed, under the easement, to build up to two homes.
Public access -
The Swindellses signed over ownership of the 554-acre Bohemia Ecological Preserve to LandPaths, which will manage the property and provide public access through trail and habitat restoration parties, camping and outdoor recreation programs.
The Swindellses and the Parish family, which bought the other two parcels, have agreed to provide $100,000 in seed money for the management and stewardship of the preserve. No public money was spent to complete the transaction, which closed escrow Wednesday.
"In these fiscally constrained times when not only existing parks are closing, but new parks and nature preserves have little chance of being formed, I feel both euphoric and humbled that we were able to complete this deal," said Craig Anderson, the executive director of LandPaths, which will have to raise 90 percent of the money it will need to manage the property over the next 10 years. "We are relying on the model we created, 'People Powered Parks,' to help us build new infrastructure, fundraise, advise us and keep an eye on the place."
Spawning grounds -
LandPaths will still be allowed under the easement to harvest up to 10 percent of the marketable timber on the property every decade.
The land is marked by serpentine soils, rare plants, steep cliffs and the signature waterfall. Redwood and Douglas fir dominate the eastern portion and three creeks flow through the property, including Dutch Bill Creek, where coho salmon and steelhead trout spawn.
The area supports a wide range of birds and wildlife, including the northern spotted owl, osprey, the pileated woodpecker, northwestern pond turtle and dusky-footed wood rat.
"Going into the center of the property is like going into Middle Earth," Neale said. "It's quiet and serene and just lovely."
13 years in the making -
The Land Trust has been working with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and community activists for 13 years to acquire the property, which is also known as Waterfall Park.
Previous owners were going to sell to a logger, who was planning to clear-cut about 74 acres and harvest timber on about 380 additional acres. News of that plan prompted conservationists to try to buy the land and create a wilderness park. Rallies were held, and there was a sold-out benefit concert by former Grateful Dead musicians Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh and rocker Sammy Hagar to raise money for the purchase by the Open Space District.
A $2.5 million offer was made at the time, but the owner sold it to the Swindellses instead. Ted Swindells said there were methamphetamine labs, bare gullies from four-wheel-drive vehicles, pot farms and erosion when he took charge of the property in 1999.
2 pot farms found -
A second effort to create a regional park failed in 2010 when the money couldn't be raised. Negotiations on the current deal have been going on ever since.
This past year, two pot farms were found on the property, a problem that the new custodians hope to eliminate.
"We've got 25 people showing up with shovels Monday to work on erosion," Anderson said. "We're going to continue on from there."