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Saving Bohemia Ranch

  • The 25 ft. Bohemia Ranch waterfall with it's swimming hole has been a hangout spot for decades. Now the fall along with 554 acres will become the Bohemia Ecological Preserve owned by LandPaths with a easement purchased by the Sonoma Land Trust.

Enter "Bohemia Ranch" into Google and you'll find a web site offering nearly 900 acres of prime West County forest for sale — suitable for as many as six homes — all for $6 million.

Now, no such sale will ever happen. By the end of the week, landowner Ted Swindells, a San Francisco venture capitalist, expects to convey the majority of the ranch to LandPaths, a local non-profit dedicated to land stewardship and outdoor access.

It's the culminating move in a complex deal creating Sonoma County's newest private park — one with a year-round waterfall, stunning views and diverse ecology including rare plants like Pennel's bird's-beak.

"In this day and age of shrinking park budgets, this is a huge deal" said Craig Anderson, LandPaths' executive director. "It's a land deal that will echo for a long time to come."

For conservationists the expected exchange also marks the happy ending to a saga that stretches back more than a decade.

In 1996, an Oregon businessman purchased the land near Occidental off Bohemian Highway, which is marked by groves of redwoods and Douglas firs and crossed by a trio of creeks providing habitat for endangered coho salmon.

The property came with state permits to harvest 380 acres of timber, sparking environmentalists' fears of new logging.

Attempts in the late 90s to buy the property for public use included a concert headlined by Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead and husband of Caryl Hart, currently the director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

Those efforts fell short and eventually the property was purchased by a corporation controlled by Swindells, who allayed environmentalists' deepest fears by installing a conservation easement permanently protecting 90 percent of the ranch.

He also spent millions of dollars cleaning up the property, removing dozens of junked automobiles and shoring up roads and trails wasted by erosion.

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