by Bob Neale
A few weeks ago, Sonoma Land Trust transferred our Tolay Creek Ranch property to Sonoma County Regional Parks. Just before the paperwork was done, we took Press Democrat reporter Nick Rahaim out to do a story about this amazing place and to let the community know about this happy event. What a day! It was early spring and warm and sunny — the grass was growing, the meadowlarks were singing and coyotes loped across the hillsides. It was lovely … and bittersweet.
You see, I’m blessed to work with great people and to explore corners of the county that many folks don’t get to see. For years, I’ve wandered solo up Tolay Creek, across the grasslands and along the ridge. When you walk the land and learn a place, when you get to know how the seasons flow — where the great horned owl nests, where the wildflowers bloom, how to read the signs of other lives scattered across the landscape — it gets under your skin. It gets personal — the place becomes part of you. Talking with the reporter, standing on the knoll looking upstream and down, I had that reluctant sense of having to let go — the bittersweet feeling of now sharing something I know intimately. But I also felt a sense of joy that so many people would soon be able to get to know this landscape as well (and, of course, I’ll still be tromping around out there).
It takes a village, a community, a county, a nation to make this happen. The process of adding Tolay Creek Ranch to the Regional Park involved many organizations and people over a long period of time — all with a vision and commitment to the future. Sonoma County citizens should be proud of their government and public employees — Regional Parks and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District have worked diligently and collaboratively with us on acquiring this place. The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have also been closely involved, teaching me and guiding me around issues about cultural resources and their importance to the past, present and future. State and federal agencies provided millions of dollars to purchase the ranch. Private foundations channeled critical funds for purchase, planning and restoration. I’m grateful to the people, the personalities and characters, behind these organizations.
And I’m grateful to you — the community that supports Sonoma Land Trust. This work is not possible without you. Your dedication and generosity inspires us — and your moral support is critical. You have planted willows and oak trees and native shrubs. You have skipped work to cover yourself in mud and build willow walls and help control erosion. You have rolled in the owl’s clover, spotted golden eagles, taken a tumble or two — and you have kept coming back, here and all over the county, to save a place, for us, for our children and grandchildren. Such commitment and faith is humbling.
This place is yours now. And don’t worry … there is still a lot to do at Tolay and throughout Sonoma County. Thank you … and I’ll see you on the land!
Bob Neale is Sonoma Land Trust's stewardship director.
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.