by Shanti Edwards
We work with a multitude of volunteers, partner groups, neighbors and friends to coordinate land stewardship activities on our protected lands, and the caretakers of our properties are just as important as any of our allies.
Caretakers provide key services in exchange for living on a beautiful, protected landscape. In addition to being a security presence and liaison with neighbors and the local community, they mow vegetation to reduce fire danger, inspect road conditions, report landslides and trees down, and perform countless other duties associated with living in a remote and rural location.
In 2011, we selected Jessica Holloway as Little Black Mountain Preserve’s caretaker after a local word-of-mouth search that included our neighbors and partner groups affiliated with the property. Jessica happened to be visiting some of our neighbors the day I left a voicemail — and heard my inquiry directly.
Jessica grew up in West County and spent many summers as a child visiting with cousins out in Cazadero. Her interest in rural living first involved a global trajectory and circuitous route to Armenia through her role in the Peace Corps. After travelling and working internationally, including teaching English in Egypt, Jessica made a commitment to volunteer in the Peace Corps within their environmental education program. Jessica lived and worked in a refugee subsistence village to raise awareness about the importance of the local river and coordinate trash cleanup programs. As a leader and educated woman, she was a role model to young girls.
Living conditions in the small Armenian village were fairly spartan, preparing Jessica for her leap back to Northern California and new life at Little Black Mountain. When we interviewed Jessica for the role and advised her on living conditions, Jessica was thrilled with the idea of a cabin to herself with running water, a woodstove and limited solar electricity. Wouldn’t she be lonely out there all by herself? Not with cousins and friends nearby.
The day I walked into the cabin and saw rugs on the floor, houseplants, musical instruments and art on the walls, I wiped my feet on the doormat, knowing that Jessica had transformed the old cabin into a cozy home. Her housewarming party involved a dozen friends helping her chop firewood — a stack that lasted two Cazadero winters!
Jessica is currently education coordinator with LandPaths and coordinates their IOOBY (In Our Own BackYard) program and Owl Camp. When asked what inspires her, she says that she “feels at home and at her best when connected to the outdoors, and strives to share this experience with others.”
As our liaison with the community, and eyes and ears on the property, we couldn’t be more thankful to have Jessica watching out for Little Black Mountain.
Shanti Edwards is a stewardship project manager at Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.