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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bohemia Ranch-Waterfall Park Almost Ours

By Dan Brenner
The 862 acre Bohemia Ranch, also known as Waterfall Park, is almost ours.

A beautiful wild place that many of us love is almost protected forever, but not quite. It is Waterfall Park, also known as Bohemia Ranch, the magical spot on Bohemia Highway near Camp Meeker that has been a place of controversy as well as enjoyment for many years. In 1999 the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District came very close to buying this land for a park but lost out to another buyer at the last minute. Caryl Hart led a valiant effort to raise funds and community awareness to help get the park for the public, including a great benefit concert with Mickey Hart and Planet Drum, but the District wasn’t able to close the deal in time.

Now Sonoma County Parks wants it for a county park and the owner has offered to sell it in a terrific bargain sale that will save all of us taxpayers a lot of money. The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has been evaluating the purchase since the beginning of the year and has asked the Sonoma Land Trust to take the lead on managing the acquisition.

The Waterfall Park property is an extraordinary place which many who have been here since the 60’s and 70’s recall as a favorite spot to hike to the waterfall for a dip and to hang out. For many years there has been an intention to add a west county regional park to the county portfolio. It is hard to imagine a opportunity better than this place. The total property has never looked better and much of the work which has been done to repair roads, mitigate over-use, clean up debris, manage runoff and generally restore important aspects of the land was done very well and was certainly costly. These improvements make the acquisition an even better deal since this environmental remediation work would need to be done anyway.

The opportunity is too great to let slip away and, in the long run, the importance of this piece should be recognized and acted upon.

Bohemia Ranch (Waterfall Park) shares a boundary on the north with Bohemian Grove, which has been in the news lately, but they are totally separate properties.

Saving Salmon
The Park, with its beautiful oak woodland, incredible views and fabulous waterfall is three miles from Occidental, in western Sonoma county. It is a major part of the watershed of Dutch Bill Creek, with three streams running off the property into Dutch Bill Creek. Over the past ten years over $2 million has been spent restoring Dutch Bill Creek as it has one of the best remaining runs of Coho salmon left in the Russian River. Bringing back these salmon to the Russian River has been a many year effort involving the Sonoma Water Agency, the Dept. of Fish and Game, the University of California, the Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and hundreds of citizens and activists in Sonoma County. Over $10 million has been spent on this Coho program alone.

Asking Price & the Deal
The full market value of the property is appraised at $5 million and the owner is willing to sell it for $3.5 million with a $750,000 down payment. This is a 30% discount off the selling price. There is an mortgage held by a local church group that can be assumed. The balance will be financed as a five year loan to give time to arrange the funds to pay it off. In addition, the owner will donate $150,000 for stewardship and maintenance of the new park.

The State Coastal Conservancy, the Open Space District, and the Sonoma County Water Agency have said they can put up approximately $2 million in 2010 to help buy the park. The crucial need is to raise the down payment by year-end, as the owner needs to sell for tax purposes by Dec. 31, 2009.

Fully Restored Native Wildland
As mentioned earlier, the Open Space District tried to buy the park in 1999, only to lose it at the last minute to the current owner. Over the past ten years the owner has spent over $3.5 million cleaning up the property, removing vast amounts of trash and junk, repairing erosion sites, re-building roads, doing extensive re-forestation, and had in-depth botanical and biological studies done. In 2003 he donated a conservation easement worth $2.6 million to the Pacific Forest Trust which then transferred the easement to the Sonoma Land Trust, but he still retained the right to build up to six houses on the 862 acres he owns.

Diverse Habitats & Special Status Species
The property hosts high quality examples of increasingly rare vegetation communities as well as rare, threatened and endangered plants and animals. Douglas-fir, coastal redwood, oak woodland and savannah, open grasslands, rare serpentine communities and riparian woodlands are all found on the ranch. These habitats support numerous birds, mammals and amphibians listed on the California Department of Fish & Game’s Species of Special Concern.
A partial listing of special status species that may be found on Bohemia Ranch include the federally threatened northern spotted owl, protected ringtail cat, mountain lion, black-shouldered kite, foothill yellow-legged frog, red-legged frog, and California salamander. Special status plant species consist of Pennel’s bird’s beak (federally endangered), Baker’s manzanita (federal species of concern and state rare), Crystal Springs lessinga and fragrant fritillary.

The Threat
The property is currently listed for sale for $5.25 million. The owner has completed all the septic perc tests (which have been approved by the county), created a water system that produce 25 gallons per minute, and built a new road to access the parcels on the ranch. If he can’t sell for a park he plans to immediately put the separate parcels on the market as estate home development sites. In addition, a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan has been approved for the property that gives the owner the right to harvest timber without having to file a THP or seek any other approvals as long he follows the general outlines of sustainable forestry as outlined in the conservation easement on the property. If we don’t get this land for a park we’ll have the new estate owners’ Mercedes SUV’s to contend with along with the logging trucks that will be involved in the timber harvest.

What You Can Do:
Contact the Sonoma Land Trust and the Open Space District and let them know your support for this project. Make sure to let your County Supervisor know that you want this project to succeed!

Board of Supervisors: 707 565-2241
County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors
575 Administration Drive, Room 100A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

1st District: Valerie Brown -
2nd District: Mike Kerns -
3rd District: Shirlee Zane -
4th District: Paul Kelley -
5th District: Efren Carrillo -

Sonoma Land Trust
, Wendy Eliot, (707)526-6930, ext 103, or Ralph Benson, ext. 104 or

Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District

Bill Keene, General Manager, 707-565-7360
David Katz, owner’s representative (707) 484-6283,

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