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Caspar Community Newsletter: March 2003

Caspar News and Press Releases

March 2003 Caspar Community Newsletter


From the President of the Caspar Board:

Happy Anniversary, Caspar Community Center!

Please join us at our Sunday, March 9th community meeting to celebrate the first year of successful operation of the Caspar Community Center. We will also celebrate the community's acquisition of the Center, financed through our recently granted USDA low interest loan in conjunction with the wonderfully generous donation from Caspar residents Jerry and Susan Juhl.

It's hard to believe that a year has gone by since the Caspar Community acquired the Caspar Community Center. And now, thanks to all involved, we have completed the purchase and begun the required construction and repairs new septic tank, ADA access, restrooms, decks, rails, and perimeter foundation. We're delighted that Caspar residents are working with us to handle this project. Architect Dan Dickson is handling our architectural needs and Contractor John Wozniak's bid was accepted for the construction contract. The work is scheduled for completion by May 31, 2003!

We've also recently negotiated a lease with the United States Postal Service that will provide a new home for the Caspar mailboxes. They will be located on a new concrete pad in the parking lot of the Caspar Community Center and, thanks to Fort Bragg Postmaster Casey Phillips, will include new package delivery lockers. Our plans for this area include lighting and a roof in the future.

The Caspar Board is also working with two neighbors whose property adjoins the Community Center's. They have proposed to purchase a small piece (approximately 8,500 square feet) of Community Center property for approximately $40,000. The transfer would be accomplished by a boundary line adjustment, paid for by these neighbors. This could be a real win-win transaction, as it would give our neighbors a little room to the east of their tiny lots without taking anything needed by the Center. And these funds could provide a substantial reduction in the USDA loan, or if allowed by the USDA, be allocated toward providing a desperately needed new roof for the Community Center, possibly with solar power generating capability.

I would like to speak for the entire Caspar Community Board in thanking all those individuals and organizations in the coastal community for their participation in acquiring and successfully operating our new Community Center. I encourage you all to come to the March 9th Meeting and celebration, another opportunity for all to join in shaping Caspar for the next 100 years.

– Mike Dell'Ara      

Charrette Inspires the Caspar Circle

by Mike Dell'Ara

Intrigued by the results of the Caspar Community Planning Charrette, Robert Bornn, former Mendocino Art Center artist in residence, sculptor, and newly arrived Caspar resident, recently presented the Caspar Community Board with a proposal to construct an outdoor ferro-cement sculpted Meeting Circle (The Caspar Circle!). The Circle would include a fire pit, table, and seating and would be located near the southeast corner of the Community Center building.

Robert proposes to design, fund raise, facilitate, and lead volunteers in the project's construction that could be phased or completed during this year, depending upon funds and available volunteers.

Robert is planning to present his model and concept drawings, answer questions, and accept suggestions at the March 9th Community Meeting.

Special Acknowledgments

Thank you, Rose Marie Hester, for your generous bequest to the Caspar Community. We wish you a long and happy life, but are gladdened by far-sighted generosity that will help keep the Caspar spirit alive for at least the next hundred years.

Thank you, Judy Tarbell, for your tireless pursuit of the USDA loan that enabled our Community Center dream to come true. And Judy, while you produce this newsletter, don't you dare even think about leaving this acknowledgment out!

The Caspar Inn Story

By Jerry Juhl

In just three years the Caspar Inn will celebrate its 100th year as a watering-hole and roadhouse, its history rooted in the glory days when Caspar was a rugged logging town with a population of 800 souls. The old saloon has been through nearly a dozen owners, survived a major fire, and was transformed in the 1970s into a hard-driving rock-and-roll and blues music nightclub by then-proprietor Peter Lit. This writer first knew the inn in the 1980s as a loud, smoky place, laden with equal measures of nostalgic charm and B-movie menace. So it is a bit surprising when the present proprietor describes the place as "friendly" and "fun." Not that she denies that the inn has a colorful reputation. Erin Keller, one of the Keller family members that owns the place, tells of meeting an old friend in Berkeley recently. "When he found out what I was doing he said, 'My god, The Caspar Inn! I think I was conceived there.'"

The Kellers -- mother Susan, daughter Erin, and son Shaun -- started vacationing in Mendocino in the 1980s, and the inn was always their favorite dancing spot. It was a shock, five years ago, when they came one evening and found the inn had closed. "I just got a bee in my bonnet," says Erin. "It was such a great place." So the Kellers wound up buying the Caspar Inn, and with the help of Shaun's wife Emily, and Erin's husband, Matthew, they started to remodel. Emily remembers that it was mainly the upstairs, which then had rooms rented out by the month, that needed work. There was a certain amount of deferred maintenance. "People had been smoking for seven years in some of those rooms," remembers Emily "without ever opening a window."

Today the top floor is a light and airy tourist retreat with ten double bedrooms. Downstairs still looks like the western saloon of old, with a pool table and a dart board, but the place now has the Keller family attitude. Erin gets calls from women who say things like "I came there by myself. I felt safe, it wasn't seedy, nobody hassled me, and I had a rockin' good time."

Though this is the image they want for the place, the Caspar Inn still has its moments: "One night we had a guy in the audience who screamed something rude to the singer on stage. After the show, we made him get up on the stage and apologize."

The music happens Wednesdays through Saturdays. Mostly it's the blues, but there is a fair amount of rock and roll, too. "The booking is built in," says Erin, "People just know the place. They send me CDs. I got James McMurtry recently because other musicians had played here and recommended us." Musicians who have played the club in the last few years include Spearhead, Charlie Musselwhite, Nick Taylor, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, and the aforementioned McMurtry. In addition, of course, many local artists perform, including Kevin and the Coconuts, Pura Vida, Steven Bates, Mambo This, and various groups headed by Bill Botrell.

Erin asked that there be two other mentions in this story, one for the folks who own and run the wonderful La Playa restaurant at the inn, Martha and Nicholas Yanez and their sons, Nichols Jr. and Ernesto. She also wants to acknowledge Manny Ornelas, who has been with the inn for twenty years. His job description is "maintenance", but Erin describes him as an all-around expert in building, electronics, liquor, food, music, and life in general. "When we first came here I used to have nightmares that something happened to Manny, because we couldn't do this without him."

And now, the Caspar Inn is for sale again. Shaun and Emily have had to move back to the Bay Area, Susan, a professional therapist, has little time available, Erin's husband, Matthew, is running another business in Sacramento, and it's time to move on. But as family members say that, they also segue easily into an enthusiastic shopping list of dreams. Emily and Shaun would like to see a family-friendly pub with the stage transformed into a kid's play area during the early hours. Erin imagines trapeze artists, circus acts, performance art. Susan wistfully hopes for young and enthusiastic partners to appear. "We'd like to run this place for another twenty years," she says.

For some more information and some fun, check out the Caspar Inn's website: It's got many photos of Caspar in the old days, historical information about the inn, and some wonderfully entertaining reminiscences by one-time employees and customers. They tell fine and eccentric stories, like the old-time Casparado who replaced common nouns with "Johnson" when he talked, as in "There he sat, smoking a Johnson, drinking a Johnson of cognac." You'll enjoy it.

Anniversary   Circle   Caspar Inn   Birds   Planning   Folk Festival   Center

Lila McMurtry's Caspar Nature Notes

Spring Birds

Caspar has its own unique microclimate and this year our "false" Spring was earlier than ever. "Real" Spring begins in late March when those icy north winds come howling. Like many eager gardeners, birds started doing their Spring thing in early February. They're singing, courting, declaring territories, and choosing nest sites every day the temperature gets above 60 degrees.

You will be seeing fewer Robins; Golden-crowned Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and Yellow-rumped Warblers will "disappear." All are heading back north to their breeding grounds.

Some Canada Geese will nest here. They often nest on the sea stacks off the headlands, an unfortunate choice as their young seldom survive.

As the season progresses, the Osprey will return to their rookery along Caspar Creek and on Cemetery Ridge. Like many Spring arrivals, these migrants will have flown thousands of miles, yet many will return to the same nest. Expect to see the whole Swallow clan (six species), Red-winged Blackbirds, Wilson's Warbler, and Swainson's Thrush soon. The resident birds, including the Black Phoebe, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, and Spotted Towhee, are getting an early jump on territory, so keep in mind that a burn pile can become a funeral pyre for songbirds. Most nest between ground level and eight feet, in thickets, tall grasses, and brush piles. It's neighborly to defer heavy clearing of brush and trees and burning until September. Fore fire safety, locate your brush piles a safe distance (at least 30 feet) away from buildings.

I have noticed that California Quail are making a comeback in Caspar. Perhaps our feral cat population is dwindling.

Spring is the season when birds (and others!) engage in exciting courtship behavior. I particularly enjoy watching the Ravens, who demonstrate impressive aerobatics, including suicide dives and barrel rolls, in their efforts to impress a mate. Ravens like to offer tokens Valentines to a prospective mate. White or shiny objects are preferred, so you will see a lot of them in Fort Bragg, where they can find these treasures. Passing the token from foot to beak in midflight or dropping it and catching it before it hits the ground, be it a piece of tinfoil or bit of sea urchin shell, are favorite displays.

The Caspar avian equivalent of Gorse is our resident flock or European Starlings. These are nice natives in Europe, but invasive pests here, displacing native species. Screening the Shul's bell tower where they roost would help control their numbers. Starlings produce a variety of of sounds including the obnoxious "whoopee cushion." Despite this and their harm to indigenous species, I can't help but admire the Starling's ability to thrive. Another feathered pest is the Brown-headed Cowbird. They'll be returning with the Red-winged Blackbirds. This innocuous looking "blackbird" has a nasty practice of laying its eggs in other birds' nests, leaving the hapless parents (usually the tiny Wilson's Warbler) to do the heavy lifting. Native nestlings don't stand a chance one more reason our songbird population is dwindling.

Of note: for several years I've sighted a lone Northern Mockingbird in downtown Caspar, sometimes overwintering. The "Northern" denotes the hemisphere, and this bird is so beloved that five states list it as their State Bird (Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Tennessee.) Mockers are the greatest of mimics, and are seen frequently inland. I hope our visitor will find a mate and stay around to share its amazing repertoire, claimed by Audubon Magazine to consist of from 80 to 200 sounds. This extended repertoire includes cell phones, telephones, typewriters, and other human noises as well as the songs of other birds. Talk about long-winded! You may be able to discern what other birds this bird has heard just by listening to it singing. One West Marin Mocker of my acquaintance added the "Quack! Quack!" of Mallard Ducks to its song, to the consternation of folks "birding by ear." So keep your ears peeled!

If you're feeling birdy and need some support, check out the Audubon Store at the Botanical Gardens. Walk with experts in the Gardens at 8am on every third Tuesday. For advice on birdscaping your land or IDing that "Golden Owl", call me in Caspar at 964-2801.

Happy Trails!

Anniversary   Circle   Caspar Inn   Birds   Planning   Folk Festival   Center

Planning Ahead

by Michael Potts

Planning is a never ending story. In December, the results of the community's creative work at the October Charrette were presented to a well-attended meeting at the Community Center. A team from BBC radio was here preparing a story (available for listening) about how communities organize, and afterward the very worldly host said to me, "There was constructive criticism, and I thought I heard a little negativity about growth, but you lot certainly seem to get along!"

The October Charrette focused on planning "From the Center Out." Our University of California Town Planning team headed by Professor Randy Hester left that meeting with mounds of paper scribbled on intensively during the charrette by more than 60 participants. The scribblings described our hopes, dreams, and visions of village squares we have known and loved, together with practical sketches of how these ideas could be brought home to Caspar.

By the December Community meeting, the UC team had collated the results and refined them down to a single workable plan. The plan included some new buildings we didn't expect, along with shared space that opened up the heart of Caspar and provided us a place to meet and play together. A key ingredient in all our dreams, of course, is the village square presently unused and inaccessible behind its barbed wire fence. This property, made up of a Rural Village (RV zoning does NOT mean RVs can park there!) parcel and the southwestern bit of the large agricultural parcel that spans the highway to the north of Caspar Street, has been offered to the Community by its present owner, Caspar Cattle Company, in return for our support in transferring "disappeared" building rights from the Headlands parcel that is now a State Park.

The UC team gave us ideas for making the land around the Community Center useful, and now we are eager to get started developing the village square. First, we must decide as a community what the commercial and residential development on the rest of the agricultural parcel will look like. After talking with County Planners and the spokesman for Caspar Cattle Company, it appears that the easiest way to create a satisfactory outcome for all parties is to transfer the two commercial and six residential plots lost when the Headlands became State Park to the agricultural parcel north and east of the Community Center. Regulators call this a "density transfer."

Why not just let these opportunities vanish? Meridian Green explains: "A vibrant village requires a little more body heat than we have. It's important to preserve the open space and pastoral feel of Caspar. I think the density transfer serves both purposes. Now we need to figure out how the new houses can be kept affordable and the new businesses be resident-serving."

As I struggle with my wish to keep Caspar "exactly as it is" while yielding gracefully to the inevitable, Randy Hester's words ring in my ears: "Imagine what might have been. Think of the way the land is zoned and the way development has been administered to date." Being visual, I drew a picture showing what might have been and what we, as a community, through careful consensus building and negotiation with the County and property owners, might achieve. The community's prize (or "price") for cooperation would be the L-shaped parcel that could become our village square and allow us to fill out the Center according to our dreams. By far the larger part of this "prize", almost the whole Caspar Road frontage, is presently zoned Rural Village (RV) and could, under present rules, have a 3-story commercial building covering 70% of the land built without us having much say in the matter.

Already lost, but back in play if we are willing, are the two splittable commercial and nine residential building sites that disappeared when the Headlands and Beach were won. The commercial buildings might shrink a little (they could have been four 3-story 8,000+ square foot monsters, cutting Caspar off from its ocean and headlands as in Gualala) and bend the village up along Caspar Street "under the viewshed" of Highway One. The residential sites could "morph" from headlands mansions to more appropriately sized moderate and affordable dwellings in back of "the forest" on land that is also under the highway's viewshed and unsuitable for cattle.

Instead of crowded urban-style development -- big and tall as the law allows, and completely commercial -- the 2-story commercial buildings could have apartments upstairs, thereby helping Caspar gain the critical mass it needs to be self-sufficient as a town. Instead of splendidly isolated mansions picketing the bluff, we can insist on clustered developments sharing services such as sewage and parking. As Meridian suggests, this optimizes precious open space and keeps Caspar's texture intact while still providing jobs, homes, and services for locals. Wise communities right around the world are trying to achieve just such a result, and here we seem to have townspeople, regulators, and property owners in agreement that we can actually do this!

Of course there is hard work ahead for us if we are to achieve another miraculous consensus. Neighboring land owners' concerns must be addressed. Folks who come to town for their mail or a visit to the Inn need to help us shape the commercial buildings that will have an impact on the experience of driving down the hill from the highway. The people who drive along Highway One have a vested interest in preserving the view across a picturesque village to a magnificent ocean.

In the last five years we have shown that Caspar's residents and friends can take a complicated stew of conflicting requirements and viewpoints, and cook them until we all get what we need. The cooking of this particular dish begins on Sunday, March 9th at the Caspar Community Meeting (and Birthday Celebration!) Out of this deliberation I am confident we will once again find a workable solution, and I, for one, look forward to the process.

Anniversary   Circle   Caspar Inn   Birds   Planning   Folk Festival   Center

Folk Festival

by Holly Tannen

The first-ever Caspar World Folk Festival will take place in and around the Caspar Community Center on Saturday and Sunday, August 9th and 10th, 2003. With the help of Caspar folk musicians Mickie Zekley and Frannie Leopold, we have a world-class line-up of musicians from around the world for a weekend of multi-cultural performances, workshops, open mikes, and spontaneous jamming.

Come and experience traditional music, song, and dance from Mexico, Turkey, Nepal, North Africa, Ireland, and France, as well as good old American folk music. There will be concerts as well as a free open-air crafts market, wandering performers, food, dance, children's activities, and a parade each day led by the Gorse Monster. Peter Barg and Dalen Anderson will be serving meals. Please save the weekend and plan to join us for around-the-world fun.

In addition to your attendance at the concerts, we do need guest accommodations for some of our musicians. If you have a guest cottage or guestroom to offer, and like folk musicians, please email me ( or call me at 937-5085.

The festival will benefit the Caspar Community.

Tickets and much more information are already available at the Festival's website.

Caspar Community Center Doings

by Dalen Anderson

The Caspar Community Center is undergoing major construction. John Wozniak and crew are setting us up with a new perimeter foundation, new ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible bathroom, and replacing the front and back porches. A volunteer crew is also taking advantage of this opportunity to give the North Room floor its prescribed first anniversary sanding and sealing the north room floor again. New lights are being hung in the south room.

In the midst of all this construction, the Center remains open and very busy. In March there will be a Community Meeting and Center Birthday Party (Sunday the 9th at 3pm), two new dance classes will start, and there will be a Grange breakfast, a Contra dance, the Hit and Run Theater, a Swing dance, a Sherry Glaser performance, Quaker and KZYX meetings, the ongoing Wednesday night ping pong and game night, and more. Stop by the community center or check our online calendar.

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