Gifts support nature’s bounty at Forest to the Sea Nature Store in Guerneville

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IF YOU GO

What: Forest to the Sea Nature Store

Where: 16215 Main St., Guerneville

Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. daily

Information: 707-604-7116, forest2sea.org

Ways to Help

Volunteer at the Forest to the Sea Nature Store or with other Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods programs and stewardship projects.

What: A free general orientation is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday (Sept. 7) at the Armstrong Redwoods Volunteer Center/Stewards office, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville. Reservations requested.

Volunteer: Become a Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods member.

Donate: Make a one-time or recurring tax-deductible donation.

Information: 707-869-9177 or visit stewardscr.org. Upcoming event

What: Old Grove Festival

When: 4:30-9 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15

Where: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve open-air theater.

Performers: The Sept. 14 lineup features The Sam Chase and the Untraditional and Rainbow Girls; Jay Som and Alex Bleeker (of Real Estate) perform Sept. 15.

Cost: One day tickets are $45-$85; two-day tickets are $86-$162. One child up to age 10 admitted free with a paying adult; additional kids tickets are $10. Pre-sale barbecue dinner is $20. Picnics welcome.

Information: Visit oldgrovefestival.org.

Playing cards featuring majestic whales, dolphins and other sea mammals may seem simply like a fanciful deck of cards, but there’s something more to this set than pure novelty.

Sales of themed playing cards — including birds of prey, mushrooms and seashore life — and other nature-related merchandise at Forest to the Sea Nature Store benefit the numerous programs and projects of the nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods.

The downtown Guerneville shop opened two years ago, during the Memorial Day weekend when tourists flock to area beaches for sun and fun along the Russian River.

Shoppers include visitors from across the country and international locales, such as families from England and France on a recent afternoon. But local residents support the nature store, as well, purchasing items including baseball-style “Critter Caps” with embroidered black bears, red foxes and other animals; children’s wooden puzzles with scenes of sweet-faced forest animals; and jewelry featuring birds, bees and butterflies.

Browse the store and you’ll discover thoughtfully displayed interpretive items, educational toys, books and games, gift items and mementos, all of which highlight the outdoors. The Stewards’ retail coordinator, Nik Szecsey, and administrative director, Annie Cresswell, select the merchandise, including a pair of long-limbed plush octopuses with bulging eyes peering out at passers-by from the front display window.

From walking sticks and guide books to outdoor accessories and apparel declaring “May the Forest Be with You,” the store has a large selection of items housed in a compact, light-filled space along Main Street.

“We try to keep a lot of our inventory on the theme of the parks we represent,” said Kat Rawhouser, the Stewards’ volunteer programs manager.

The Guerneville-based organization partners with the Russian River Sector of California State Parks to promote, restore and protect cultural and natural resources at sites including Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, Austin Creek State Recreation Area, Willow Creek Watershed and Sonoma Coast State Park, from Bodega Bay to Jenner.

“People love the store. We’ve heard from the locals that we’re their go-to,” said Michele Luna, the Stewards’ executive director. “The community wants us to be here.”

About 10 volunteers help run the store, with support from Stewards staff members. More volunteers are needed to expand the store hours, currently noon to 5 p.m. daily.

The volunteers are among the 287 people who donate their time to help with 15 programs operated by the Stewards, from Whale Watch, Seal Watch and marine and watershed education to pinniped and seabird monitoring.

Volunteers also serve as docents and roving naturalists at Armstrong Grove; help with trail crews and special events; work at visitor centers in Jenner and at Armstrong Grove; and staff the “Steward Ship” mobile marine education van that visits schools, community events and coastal locations. All are among the many opportunities to support environmental education, stewardship efforts and open-space preservation.

“We like to say there’s something for everyone,” Luna said. “There’s no way we could do everything we do without our volunteers. They’re the heart and soul of our work.”

She recalls being “just amazed at the volunteer commitment” when she joined the Stewards as executive director 25 years ago. Many volunteers serve in leadership roles, presenting trainings and coordinating programs, “a model that works really well for us,” Luna said. Volunteers “love to give back to the parks.”

IF YOU GO

What: Forest to the Sea Nature Store

Where: 16215 Main St., Guerneville

Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. daily

Information: 707-604-7116, forest2sea.org

Ways to Help

Volunteer at the Forest to the Sea Nature Store or with other Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods programs and stewardship projects.

What: A free general orientation is from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday (Sept. 7) at the Armstrong Redwoods Volunteer Center/Stewards office, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville. Reservations requested.

Volunteer: Become a Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods member.

Donate: Make a one-time or recurring tax-deductible donation.

Information: 707-869-9177 or visit stewardscr.org. Upcoming event

What: Old Grove Festival

When: 4:30-9 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15

Where: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve open-air theater.

Performers: The Sept. 14 lineup features The Sam Chase and the Untraditional and Rainbow Girls; Jay Som and Alex Bleeker (of Real Estate) perform Sept. 15.

Cost: One day tickets are $45-$85; two-day tickets are $86-$162. One child up to age 10 admitted free with a paying adult; additional kids tickets are $10. Pre-sale barbecue dinner is $20. Picnics welcome.

Information: Visit oldgrovefestival.org.

The nature store was established not only to help fund the Stewards’ programs and projects, but “to increase our outreach in the community and become more visible,” she said. Pamphlets and brochures about state park sites are available at the store, along with educational displays and information about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities.

“We really like to help promote what we do and get more people involved,” Luna said.

In the nature store’s first year, nearly 80 new members were added, providing sustainable funding for the organization.

The store has been breaking even, and earning positive feedback. “There are lots of added benefits that aren’t monetary,” Luna said. “There are just a whole lot of other positives for us.”

Rawhouser, who was assisting customers on a recent weekday, said there’s always an opportunity to share information about the Stewards. “Sometimes I overhear what (visitors are) talking about,” she said, explaining how their conversations provide an opportunity to share information about hiking and walking trails, day trips, camping sites or other recreational options.

The store is about 2 miles from Armstrong Woods, where towering coast redwoods include the Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be more than 1,400 years old, and the Parson Jones Tree, tallest in the grove, standing more than 310 feet tall.

“Our redwoods are so amazing, I like to direct people to them,” Rawhouser said. “If you come to this area and don’t see the redwoods, you’re missing out on something.”

The nature store carries several redwoods keepsakes, including a Redwood Forest Fog Globe, similar to collectible snow globes but producing a fog effect when shaken. The hand-painted globe, selling for $28.95, is a bestseller — and a reminder of how coast redwoods absorb fog through their needles to help them survive the dry summer months.

Merchandise also highlights a Stewards’ cultural resource, Pond Farm. The historic Austin Creek State Recreation Area is the site of the home and barn studio of late master potter Marguerite Wildenhain, who held workshops there for upcoming ceramics artists.

Works by Pond Farm students — including James Dahl, John Steven Kjome and Frank Philipps — are available at the store, as are hand-thrown coffee mugs with detailed park logos produced by Deneen Pottery artists. The Minnesota-based pottery business was established by Pond Farm students Peter and Mary Deneen.

Rawhouser said store customers and volunteers help outdoors visitors who benefit from the Stewards’ programs and projects. Close to 8,000 students (pre-kindergarten through college) visit the state parks and recreation areas each year, some for the first time.

“We get kids who’ve never seen the redwoods or the ocean,” Rawhouser said. The experience can have lasting benefits, she said, “even if they just remember they saw a banana slug in the forest.”

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