If land trusts were sold in hardware stores, they would share an aisle with Swiss Army knives. Much like the iconic tool, they are equipped with an array of versatile capabilities, designed to address the diverse challenges of conserving land for people and nature. Below, we present three stories of projects aimed at realizing a shared vision of creating accessible urban green spaces that make full use of our unique toolset.

Fostering inclusive community engagement

In the heart of Petaluma lies a new home for community, art, and nature: the Petaluma River Park. Spearheaded by the Petaluma River Park Foundation (PRPF), this 35+ acre riverfront oasis is more than just green space—it’s a testament to the way Sonoma Land Trust collaborates to initiate meaningful community engagement.

The PRPF, founded in 2019 by Petaluma residents, set out with a mission to create a space where people, art, and nature converge. Their ambitious vision was a vibrant park fostering community connection and environmental stewardship for generations to come. However, they recognized that achieving this vision required more than good intentions—it demanded inclusive collaboration and meaningful community engagement.

Enter Sonoma Land Trust, a trusted ally with a shared commitment to conservation and community empowerment. Recognizing the importance of diverse voices in shaping the park’s future, Sonoma Land Trust raised funding through a generous grant from the Peter E. Haas Jr. Family Fund to create the Community Engagement Blueprint. Our Director of Community Engagement (and Petaluma local), Neal Ramus, began the project by convening a coalition of over a dozen mission-aligned organizations on how to create a unified vision for equitable spaces in nature. Over 12 months, Neal and the coalition met over Zoom and delved into the intricacies of Petaluma’s history, demographics, and social dynamics. Their goal was clear: to develop a blueprint for community engagement that would pave the way for an inclusive and participatory park planning process.

At the core of their efforts was a commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Recognizing the historical marginalization of certain communities in decision-making processes, the Coalition prioritized centering the voices of people experiencing homelessness and communities of color.

But the Coalition’s work went beyond mere consultation—it sparked a fundamental shift in PRPF’s approach to community engagement. By challenging PRPF to reevaluate its leadership composition and decision-making processes, the Coalition ensured that the park’s governance reflected the diversity of the community it served. This led to tangible outcomes, including a commitment to a board with at least half of its members identifying as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)—a testament to the power of community-led advocacy.

Moving forward, the Petaluma River Park stands as a beacon of collaborative stewardship and inclusive design.

Sonoma Land Trust is honored to have played a pivotal role in facilitating the Petaluma River Park’s inception with the creation of the Community Engagement Blueprint. This initial step led to the design of a new park and delivered a plan that truly reflects the values and aspirations of the Petaluma community.

“The Community Partner Coalition embodies the values of connection, creativity, and environmental sustainability and as the park takes shape, it serves as a reminder that true community engagement isn’t just about consulting—it’s about co-creating spaces where everyone feels welcome, heard, and empowered”, said Neal Ramus. “And in that spirit, the Petaluma River Park is poised to become a cherished resource for all who call Petaluma home.”

To learn more about the progress at Petaluma River Park, visit www.petalumariverpark.org

Tools that Transform a Highway to a Greenway

The Greenway Campaign got its start with a group of sharp, talented, and self-motivated community members driven by a shared purpose—to convert a 50+ acre abandoned highway into a park. They volunteered their time, gathered additional support, and then called Sonoma Land Trust to join them in their quest. Through our collaboration, we partnered to leverage experiences and skills from both teams to navigate the land acquisition process and transform the Greenway into something special for the community. A decade later, we stand together to cross the finish line.

Studies have shown that access to nature improves our quality of life and inter-city greenways that connect people to larger parks can provide an easy and safe way to be in nature without requiring a car. This was the initial vision for Santa Rosa’s future Greenway that began in 2008 when a group got together to realize the potential in the 47-acre, two-mile-long corridor of undeveloped and long-neglected land in the middle of the city. The Greenway, a property that was owned by Caltrans to develop into a four-lane extension of Highway 12 was removed from the City’s general plan in the 1990s, and the open space inspired a dream of interconnected neighborhoods joined by a walking path in nature for everyone to enjoy.

Fast forward over a decade—that initial group has evolved into a powerful community-led organization dedicated to realizing that dream of a Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway. The project has attracted local businesses, educators, government agencies, and local nonprofits—including Sonoma Land Trust—working together to make the Greenway a reality.

Through this collaboration we are working toward a vibrant green corridor threaded with cycling and pedestrian paths, community gardens, pocket parks, and art displays that connect neighborhoods, create opportunities for outdoor education, and enhance climate resiliency. Most importantly, the Greenway will provide a park to thousands of city residents from nearby, high-density neighborhoods who can enjoy sitting in the shade on a hot day or walking to a place to recreate. Access to nature and open space is critical to our physical and mental health and well-being. Greenways provide us with car-free alternatives to accessing regional, city, and state parks. They also can reduce temperatures, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, while providing a safe place to stroll, ride, or run free from traffic.

Community Partnerships
In 2014, Sonoma Land Trust joined the Greenway Campaign, the City of Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Water Agency, the Sonoma County Parks Department, and other nonprofits in forming a community partnership to acquire, plan, develop, and manage the Greenway. This type of collaboration allows each organization and agency to lend their specific strengths to our shared goal. In the Land Trust’s case, that meant helping secure funding and applying our real estate expertise to acquire the property.

Along with the Greenway Campaign, we leveraged our community relationships to raise a total of $827,000 from foundations and private individuals, including the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the Saba Foundation, the Mead Foundation, and hundreds of individual gifts, both large and small.

Our Land Acquisition Director John McCaull shared more insight into the unique position we hold in this work: “Since 2015, we have held the role as a central convener, bringing together government agencies, community groups, and funders to accomplish a very big win for people and nature. This land will be transformed into a convenient and beautiful gateway to the natural world for thousands of Santa Rosa residents and visitors, and a critical piece of climate resilient infrastructure for the city.”

As we move into phase 2 of the project, we are continuing our role as conveners with a focus on ensuring an equitable process that includes representation from our community is integrated into the park planning and design process.

Where are we today?
In February, the City Council began its annual priority goal-setting process, an opportunity for us to request the Greenway be placed on the priority list for 2024—25. Caltrans is expected to vote on the transfer this Summer making the parcel available for park development and planning to commence.

We’re also thrilled to share that our partners at Ag + Open Space have approved a $1 million matching grant for this project and we hope to close the transaction within the next six months, allowing this property to become a vibrant public park instead of a highway.

The continuous momentum of this project is due to the commitment shared by everyone involved–from government agencies to local businesses to neighbors—to bring this groundbreaking park to the heart of Sonoma County and the communities that will benefit from it.

Learn more at www.southeastgreenway.org/

Supporting an urban one-acre oasis

In 2017, the Tubbs Fire ravaged the Mark West neighborhood, an unincorporated area of Sonoma County just north of the City of Santa Rosa. The community has been steadily recovering in the years since, with locals coming together to plan and influence the rebuilding of their neighborhoods. But one critical piece of the recovery plan was missing – a shared outdoor space for everyone to enjoy. With Sonoma Land Trust’s help, a group of community members and business leaders quickly mobilized to acquire a centrally-located, one-acre property with the vision of creating “a green oasis in the middle of our neighborhood.” Park planning is now well underway, and we are all looking forward to the public being able to enjoy this green space in an area that has historically lacked access to nature.

The former Mark West Community Preschool was burned in the fire, with just one living tree remaining. The one-acre property is centrally located and was slated for residential development, but when the idea for a park was raised, a group of community members and business leaders quickly mobilized to make the idea a reality. They formed a new nonprofit organization, the Mark West Area Community Fund, facilitated donations and funding, and approached several partners to facilitate the purchase of the property.

This is where Sonoma Land Trust came in. We were delighted that the Community Fund came to us for help acquiring the property, and we provided the guidance and expertise to purchase the lot with funding from the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space Matching Grant Program, the Mark West Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), and District 4 Infrastructure Funds.

The benefits of this park are innumerable – aside from filling a critical need for open space in the neighborhood, it will provide opportunities for recreation and benefits to public health by improving air quality. It will also increase climate resilience as a refuge from heatwaves, and very importantly will revitalize a fire-scarred area with a restoration plan prioritizing the planting of native and drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, and plants.

Beyond the tangible benefits the community park will bring to the area, the collaborative process of rebuilding and creating this “green oasis in the middle of our neighborhood,” as Community Fund board member Westin Miller called it in a 2023 op-ed, is also an exercise in healing. Miller’s vision for the park is full of possibilities:

“The potential for amenities such as a gazebo, a playground with elements like tree logs, stumps, boulders, and plants to encourage nature-based play, vegetable gardens, and a pollinator garden to help attract bees, butterflies, and birds. Newly planted trees will provide places to cool off and enjoy the shade, especially during ever-hotter summers. I can see my family spending many evenings and weekends here with our friends and loved ones.”

The opportunity to feel a sense of community, and for a gathering space where people can come together and experience a sense of place and connection is the driving force behind this collaborative project. The park has so much support behind it – from elected officials, business owners, healthcare providers, families, and the broader Sonoma County community.

As of January 31, escrow closed on the property, and a ribbon-cutting celebration is scheduled for early Spring. An initial park design is underway, driven by feedback and ideas received at several community engagement events, and we are all looking forward to the public being able to enjoy this green space in an area that has historically lacked access to nature.

Want to get involved? The public is welcome to volunteer and help build the park by visiting www.markwestarea.org

A Force for Nature Spotlight: Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway Founders Speak About Mission

For over a decade, the vision of transforming an abandoned strip of land into an urban greenway has been at the forefront of the Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway Campaign’s mission. Linda Proulx, Southeast Greenway Campaign founding member and Sonoma Land Trust Legacy League member, and Thea Hensel, co-chair of the Southeast Greenway Campaign and Sonoma Land Trust Evergreen member, explain the importance of this project and why it’s also important for them to individually support Sonoma Land Trust.

Linda emphasizes the alignment between the two organizations, stating, “Our vision of creating a vibrant urban greenway perfectly complements Sonoma Land Trust’s mission of providing equitable access to nature while conserving land for future generations.” She added, “The partnership between our organizations is one of the reasons why I personally support Sonoma Land Trust having seen the tremendous value they bring to this work.”

Linda’s sentiments are echoed by Thea Hensel, who emphasizes the unique qualities of the greenway. “The Southeast Greenway offers a diverse range of landscapes, from open spaces, shaded parks, creeks and streams to stunning hillside vistas,” she explains. “These attributes make it a valuable asset to the community, and we are grateful for the unwavering support and guidance provided by the Sonoma Land Trust and the vital role they’ve played in shepherding this project.”

At the heart of this collaboration is a commitment to connecting communities with nature. It also exemplifies what can be achieved when both organizations leverage their strengths and resources to transform ideas into reality, creating lasting benefits for both people and the planet. The outcome will not only benefit the local community but also contribute to our larger environmental conservation efforts and the 30×30 climate resilience goals.

As we move closer to realizing this vision together, we express our gratitude to all members of the Southeast Greenway Team and their supporters for their dedication and hard work and the many ways they support Sonoma Land Trust. Their tireless efforts have been instrumental in advancing this project and we value their partnership.

Learn more about the latest updates at https://southeastgreenway.org

Celebrating Our Communities

Black History Month & Women's History Month

Black History Month in February and Women’s History Month in March have offered us the opportunity to open the conversation about the extraordinary accomplishments of both marginalized groups and work toward a more inclusive future year-round. In case you missed it, on our social media channels this month we explored the stories of prominent abolitionist, feminist, business magnate, and civil rights advocate Mary Ellen Pleasant and her time in Sonoma County, and Black explorer and conservationist James Beckwourth who discovered a less treacherous pass through the Sierra Nevada.

In addition to learning these stories from the past, please get to know these amazing local and national organizations currently working to share and promote Black history, culture, and community wellness in Sonoma County, and advancing Black leadership in the conservation and environmental fields.


Hwy 37: A focus on the environment

The Press Democrat reported on two stories highlighting progress on the upgrade of Hwy 37 and our restoration plans in the San Pablo Baylands. The Baylands Restoration and Transportation Expanded Partnership was formed to include key environmental and tribal leaders to ensure a commitment to ecological restoration. In addition, Caltrans has awarded a $50 million grant to lengthen the Tolay Creek Bridge, creating a wider channel essential for our restoration efforts.

Read the full article here and learn more about our SR 37 work on our website.

Former SDC open space lands getting much-needed attention

Northern California Public Media covered a story about the habitat restoration underway in the open space surrounding the Sonoma Developmental Center which was recently transferred to Jack London State Park. This work of thinning underbrush to reduce wildfire risk and clearing invasive broom species was able to be completed before bird nesting season due to the nimbleness of the Sonoma Valley Wildlands Collaborative, of which Sonoma Land Trust is a member and provided funding for this critical work. Listen to the short interview to learn more.

Language of the Land: California Against the Sea

Explore the future of the California coast with Rosanna Xia, an environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She will share insights from her award-winning reporting on sea level rise and introduce her new book, California Against the Sea which explores how the decisions we make today will determine where we go tomorrow: headlong into natural disaster, or toward an equitable refashioning of coastal stewardship. Register here

Lengauje de la tierra: California contra el mar

Reflexione sobre el futuro de la costa de California con Rosanna Xia, periodista medioambiental del Los Angeles Times. Ella compartirá las ideas de su galardonado reportaje sobre la subida del nivel del mar y presentará su nuevo libro, California Against the Sea (California contra el mar), que explora cómo las decisiones que tomemos hoy determinarán hacia dónde nos dirigimos mañana: hacia un desastre natural o hacia una remodelación equitativa de la gestión costera. Regístrese aquí

Watch On-Demand: Sea Otters to the Rescue!

California’s coastal ecosystems are under stress – kelp forests, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes have been in decline for decades. However, sea otters may be the key to restoring these ecosystems! In this talk, Dr. Brent Hughes of Sonoma State University teaches us about these predators and their function in restoration, exploring how we might bring sea otters back to the Sonoma Coast to enhance the restoration efforts of local ecosystems. Watch the recording in English here

Ver ahora: Lenguaje de la tierra: ¡Nutrias Marinas al Rescate!


Join us out in nature this month! We’ll be exploring the Sonoma Mountain Vernal Pools property, taking a marsh walk at Sears Point, and more. Visit our outings page to learn more and to register.

Wild Girls: How the Outdoors Shaped the Women Who Challenged a Nation by Tiya Miles

“I heard an interview with the author of this book who discussed the connection between inspiring female historical figures and their experiences in the outdoors. This would be a great read for Women’s History Month!”

It is with profound sadness that we share the passing of our beloved colleague and friend Julia Elkin. Julia’s radiant spirit touched our lives, and her infectious smile illuminated every room she entered.

A woman of extraordinary warmth and compassion, Julia was respected for her expertise, intellect, and commitment to making a positive impact on the natural world. In the short time that we had the honor of working with her, it was evident that she possessed the rare qualities of someone who could tackle the complexities of conservation and succeed, while at the same time nurturing and celebrating her collaborators.

As a dedicated naturalist, Julia’s caring nature extended beyond the environment to the people around her, and most profoundly by offering the gift of life to so many at the end of hers.

Julia’s commitment to the environment and her remarkable array of talents and interests as a musician, a crafter, a baker, and a sailor made her an inspiration to us all. She embodied the essence of biophilia, the deep connection in the wonders and rhythms of the natural world.

Julia lives on in our hearts and will continue to guide us in our work. Sonoma Land Trust staff and board will honor her memory by carrying forward her spirit in all that we do.

Please join us in honoring Julia’s memory and celebrating her extraordinary life.