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Why Celebrate Gorse?
Caspar Calling : December 1998
"Celebrate Gorse? What's to celebrate about gorse?"
As a life-long contrarian, I had to laugh at her question. I have lived in Caspar for more than thirty years now, happily surrounded by a proud, contrary mob of neighbors and acres of encroaching gorse. Caspar nestles between a superb ocean, two sparkling beaches, and an enormous forest, but despite its ideal location, it is beset by plentiful problems, from gorse and clearcutting to midnight jake-brakes and whizzing Winnebagos on Highway One. Like most of us living in Caspar, gorse came from far away: a forbiddingly thorny, aggressive european native Ulex europaeus, gorse (or furze) is distantly related to the familiar yellow-flowered Scotch Broom. In its native land it is reputedly well-behaved, and is cultivated as a growing fence not even goats will eat through. Gorse is here; it's wildly successful ...why not celebrate it?
Caspar began as a company town, and for all my years in Caspar, the open space and nearby forest belonged to the Company. Controlling gorse is hard work, so it is a testimonial to the Company's good stewardship that as long as their land was being managed for timber, even the open spaces were kept relatively free of gorse, blackberry, eucalyptus, thistle, and other exotic pests. In 1990, when the Caspar Lumber Company heirs sold their inland forest holdings to GP and their coastal land to the Caspar Cattle Company, many residents felt the cold wind of change. GP took the marketable trees in a few years. Raising cattle is extractive, since the crop can be headed up and moved out within an hour, and the Company's successors made little effort to care for the land. In 1997 the wind whispered that the new owners were looking to sell. What happens when the company liquidates itself and forsakes its town?
Luckily for us, Oscar, the spokesman for the Caspar Cattle Company, is fond of Caspar, and so when it became desirable to sell, he asked residents of the town if they might have some idea what to do with the land. After cursory research, it became evident that under the outdated and badly mapped coastal plan, an adverse sale to an insensitive outsider could result in the loss of many of the special qualities Casparados have come to hold dear – the winter sunset from the front porch of the Caspar Inn, the goose pond, the ocean prospects along Caspar Road and from Caspar Orchard Road, to name a few. Caspar residents invited a team of landscape designers from UC Berkeley to help Caspar identify its "sacred spaces" and special values in order to formulate a plan. Meanwhile, Oscar and Caspar residents lobbied the State of California to purchase Caspar Beach and Cemetery Ridge. A fortuitous budget surplus and the continuing efforts of the Coastal Conservancy, local legislators, residents, and Oscar himself resulted in an agreement, in late Spring of 1998, to buy the Caspar Cattle Company holdings south of Caspar Creek for $1.8 million, to be managed by the Mendocino Land Trust. A management plan emphasizing wildlife protection and public access is being developed. What will become of the two houses on the beach? Who picks up the trash? If you have opinions, please share them with us.
The Caspar Community designated a steering committee and negotiated an "umbrella" agreement with Dharma Cloud Foundation, a local non-profit 501(c)(3) interested in preserving forest and open space. During well-attended monthly meetings, the community began raising money for a preliminary plan and a coordinator to help organize their work. A mission statement -- "To preserve and enhance all life in Caspar" – was ratified. In the early months of the project, we agreed that any reasonable plan for Caspar must include the ideas of all village residents. It was easy to wish for no growth or development, but with a bit of study, most of us concluded that Caspar could survive and possibly even thrive with a few more homes and a little more business if the character of the land and the village were preserved.
Would we preserve gorse? Certainly not, when our native coho salmon and white-tailed kites really need protection. As near to our hearts as gorse is, we recognize that there are a few things Caspar does not need – more gorse, a row of three-story shops along the western side of Caspar Road across from the Inn and Black Bear Press, a cookie-cutter subdivision of trophy homes cluttering the headlands – a few things we do need – work for our young, housing for our workers and our elders – and a few things we want – recreation for all, perhaps a bakery, a community center ...our post office back again.
The dream of Caspar in 2098, a century from now, slowly begins to take shape as the more immediate work begins. The Gorse Festival in October gave many Casparados a chance to celebrate their community's stubborn identity: when Bill Bottrell asserted "We OWN this town" the Caspar Inn rocked with approval, and I knew that our seemingly overwhelming task was within reach. Already, more than $30,000 has been raised, a preliminary plan is complete and paid for, and in November our Coordinator, Pat Ackley, began her work. If you want to be part of Caspar's renaissance, please call the coordinator at 964-4997, send your suggestions (and donations!) to the Caspar Community Fund, box 84, Caspar, California 95420, or visit our website at CasparCommons.org . Community meetings take place on the second Sunday of every month, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon at the Caspar Shul. After the December meeting, an informal get-together and holidaze party will be held at the Caspar Inn.
In future columns, I will keep you posted about progress, tell you about our plans for preserving Caspar by creating a way for investors to share in the benefit of keeping the control and responsibility for stewardship of Caspar at home. Thank you for visiting.
written by Michael Potts
printed in MendoScene, January 1999
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