Cover Story

The Sonoma Land Trust became the country’s first land-saving organization of its kind

Land Grab

Sonoma Land Trust is 25 years old–and 13,000 acres strong

By David Templeton

A QUARTER CENTURY ago, in 1976, smack in the middle of America’s yearlong bicentennial celebrations, a spirited assortment of Sonoma County visionaries–activists and property owners alike–banded together to attempt something truly revolutionary. Amid all the speeches and poetry contests and related hoopla, with its chorus of voices warbling songs like This Land Is Your Land and This Is MY Country, the founding members of the Sonoma Land Trust were dreaming up a plan that would honor and protect the land that they love–in a truly literal sense. The Sonoma Land Trust became the country’s first land-saving organization of its kind by acquiring parcels of land under threat of development and by holding conservation easements that would permanently limit development on that land.

Twenty-five years later, the organization has evolved from a small cadre of activists, persuading property owners to donate land for tax advatages, to an amassment of 1,500 contributing members, with a small, committed full-ltime staff and the resources to purchase threatened properties. The Sonoma Land Trust has, to date, permanently protected over 13,000 acres of North Bay earth, currently holds 27 conservation easements, owns and manages 11 properties, and has transfered 11 properties to public agencies.

“The Sonoma Land Trust,” explains David Katz, executive director, “has matured as an organization. Since those first days, when the focus was mainly on survival, we’ve become more professional, more stable and solid. We’ve been thrown out of our infancy, and now have the broad support of all sections of the community.”

That said, it’s party time.

On Oct. 10, the SLT will be celebrating its 25 years in the land-saving business with an afternoon of story-swapping, music, food, wine, and birthday cake–two cakes, actually, each to be decorated with the icing-painted landscape of properties under the protection of the SLT–and a keynote speech by essayist Fred Euphrat.

In attendance will be members and Land Trust volunteers–who assist in various restoration projects and act as environmental monitors of the Land Trust’s properties–as well as folks from the community eager to say thank you (and, just maybe, take the opportunity to become more involved).

Says Karen d’Or, development director of the trust, “The party is a great opportunity for members of the community who’d like to have a stronger relationship with our lands to become familiar with the opportunities available through the Sonoma Land Trust.”

Opportunity is a word the SLT people use often, and with particular enthusiasm. As when d’Or describes the trust’s members-only “hiking tour” series, explaining that it offers land lovers “the opportunity to see beautiful, unknown parts of the county.” Or the way Katz describes the close-to-the-soil contact enjoyed by the SLT’s many volunteer “Land Stewards,” who “adopt” a piece of property, monitoring the land and documenting its conditions over time.

“It’s an opportunity,” he says, “for anyone who wants to have a more direct relationship to the land, not only in the broader landscape but in developing a relationship with a specific place.”

And even after 25 years of work, he adds, the land-saving opportunities in the North Bay are endless.

Says Katz, “There’s still plenty of work to be done.”

The Sonoma Land Trust Silver Anniversary celebration will be held Oct.10, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., at the Friedman Center, 4676 Mayette Ave., Santa Rosa. Cost is $20 per person. Advance reservations must be confirmed by Oct.5. Call 707/526-6930.

From the October 4-10, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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