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Land preserved to educate kids

  • Steele Lane Elementary School third graders pretend they are salmon heading to the ocean past parents serving as natural and man-made obstacles to their survival. LandPaths sponsors 10 local schools who visit the site over the year with their "In Our Own Backyard" program. The Coastal Conservancy awarded $750,000 toward the purchase of the property to serve as a nature preserve and near-urban environmental education center for children.

A gnarled manzanita stands on Buzzard's Roost, a colorfully named promontory in a conifer forest that overlooks Mark West Creek and a broad meadow of browning grass.

"Did you see my hand-written sign warning of rattlesnakes?" Betty Doerksen asks. "Maybe I have to make a bigger one."

The Doerksen ranch, known as Ranchero Mark West, is 122 acres in the Mark West valley, with a 140-year-old barn and 160-year-old farmhouse, on St. Helena Road in the heart of the Mayacamas.

Doerksen Ranch

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It's a jewel for the Doerksens and for the public, and the Doerksens are making sure it stays that way.

The ridge that rises behind the ranch has imposing forests of redwoods and Douglas fir, the majority of them planted by Jim Doerksen over the past 40 years, by his count a million in all.

"I took 200 forestry classes. I decided I'll go ahead and get this right. You can have a forest and not damage the land," Doerksen said.

The ranch is only 20 minutes from downtown Santa Rosa, but when you're there, it feels farther.

"The old timers called it Alpine Valley," said Craig Anderson, executive director of LandPaths, a non-profit conservation group. "It looks like many places around Copperolis and the western slope of the Sierra."

The diogenes lantern and Red Larkspur wild flowers are in bloom and the Calypso Orchid, also known as the redwood orchid, was in bloom two months ago.

Doerksen has been a steward of the land since he bought it in 1967, clearing brush, planting trees, carefully maintaining the narrow, steep logging roads that loop through the ridge and worrying about the Coho and steelhead in Mark West Creek.


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