by Shanti Edwards
… To protect the land forever is our tagline, and it’s been nearly 40 years since the Creighton Ridge Fire, after which Bob and Peggy Thieriot donated their Little Black Mountain Preserve to Sonoma Land Trust. Though 40 years is just a blink compared to an eternity, it’s long enough to see dramatic changes in the landscape, witness generational changes in the neighborhood and forge lasting relationships with our community of volunteers, caretakers and hikers who all share a strong affinity for this special place.
The Thieriots left their mark on geography and history by donating Little Black Mountain to Sonoma Land Trust, anchoring our conservation efforts on the Sonoma Coast and presence in the region. Their intent was to preserve Little Black Mountain as open space and dedicate it to the community. The grant agreement includes a request that SLT expand the preserve whenever possible, which we have since accomplished through our acquisition of the 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands property and recent 238-acre Pole Mountain purchase, creating a 6,368-acre protected landscape.
By all accounts, the Thieriots were a dynamic couple. Born Nion Robert Thieriot, Bob was an eccentric gentle giant with a big heart. A descendant of San Francisco’s de Young family, Bob traded his urban upbringing for a simple, back-to-the-land lifestyle. In 1974, after graduating from Stanford, Bob and Peggy purchased Little Black Mountain — 500 acres in the rugged hills of Cazadero — and made a home in the old ranch homestead. There, they lived off the grid with a bountiful garden and cooked over a wood-burning stove. Bob’s brother Peter recalls many Thanksgiving feasts created over the old cook stove as Peggy expertly orchestrated decadent dishes timed perfectly on the stove compartments.
Bob practiced what he referred to as “gentle forestry,” an early version of the sustainable forestry still practiced today on the property. Bob felled diseased or dead trees and milled them onsite, making them into furniture or carpentry projects using nothing but antique hand tools.
The LBM Preserve and 12,000 acres of surrounding landscape burned in the Creighton Ridge fire. Neighbors say that the fire consumed the forest atop Little Black Mountain within a span of 20 minutes and sounded like a roaring jet engine. Bob saw the fire coming and was able to evacuate just two truckloads of belongings before the fire was upon them. The Thieriot family barely escaped with their lives as the fire reduced the oxygen in the air and their vehicle sputtered all the way out the old ranch road.
Devastated by the fire and loss of their homestead, the Thieriots gradually began deeding portions of the property to Sonoma Land Trust. Bob and Peggy moved to the Berkshires in Massachusetts and homesteaded a 200-acre farm with an old oak two-story farmhouse built in the 1880s, where Bob continued to mill wood by hand and make furniture.
Bob Thieriot spearheaded land conservation efforts through his involvement with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, where he purchased more than 4,500 acres of land for donation — or restricted them for preservation. He continued to promote his gentle forestry guidelines intended to preserve forests for wildlife, aesthetics and wetlands.
Bob Thieriot passed away from cancer in 1998 — but his gift of Little Black Mountain to Sonoma Land Trust left a lasting legacy, anchoring our conservation efforts on the Sonoma Coast and seeding a 6,368-acre protected landscape. If only he could walk these trails with us once again …
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.