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June 23, 2010     Feather River Bulletin
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Bulletin, Progressive, Record, Reporter Wednesday, June 23, 2010 111 RE GI ONAL Vision a00z,00l .dedication save White Sulphur Springs In 2008, the Mohawk Valley Stewardship Council received permission from landowner Steven Luczo to do a much-needed winterization of the historic main building at White Sulphur Springs Ranch as part of its acquisition and restoration effort. Photo submitted Linda Satchwell Staff Writer Isatchwell@pIurnasnews.corn White Sulphur Springs Ranch sits prominently in the Mohawk Valley, a re- minder of a gentle past, but also of the not-so-gentle effects of neglect. Photos of the ranch house in the late 1990s and today document a rapid decay. Just as the place seemed destined for ashes and dust, a group of visionary and dedi- cated community members came along, t 9 raise it Up again. Last year, the non-profit Mohawk Valley Stewardship Council formed, aimed at protecting, conserving and restoring "the region's physb cal, cultural, archeological, historical and living re- sources" and encouraging "public cooperation to im- prove, protect and maintain agricultural, economic and community sustainability in the region." Its primary focus is the acquisition and restoration of the ranch. The council's board of directors includes president Alice Berg, Bill Tantau, Susan Pettinato, Ginny Liljefelt, Sally Tantau and Marnie Malpass. It's prime mover, Berg is a soft-spoken woman whose manner belies her knowledge and determi- nation. Berg said that she'd been living out of the area for 20 years and wasn't prepared for what she saw when she returned. "I didn't really know it (the house) was falling down," she said. "I came back and saw it and said 'Oh my God, this can't happen. We have to do something." This was the first home- stead in the area---originally a 400-acre ranch owned by three men, Gould, Friend and Jamison. The date of con- struction for the combined ranch house, stage-stop and residence, built by George McLear, is speculative, thought to be between 1857 and 1867. In building, McLear picked the "very best spot, with the best view, the most prominent spot.., there are hot springs and a wealth of water here," said Berg. "It had a presence, when you entered the valley." She noted that when people drive through the beautiful Mohawk Valley today on Highway 89, there are few places where they can stop and enjoy it, since almost all of it is private land. She also has personal memories of White ulDhur Springs when it was a recre- ational center for the entire community. "Imagine as a kid, hanging out here in the summer, swimming," she said. "Every day we were here. This is where we hung out. Parents would bring pic- nics and they'd have blankets in the graCs.., and the kids would just swim all day." Berg's experience in grant writing for the forest service and resource conservation districts led her to think big in the case of White Sulphur Springs Ranch. She found out that there was already a dedi- cated group of people circu- lating a petition to save the ranch, so she got involved and said, "OK,,we've got to form a non-profit, and we need to start writing grants, and that's how we can save White Sulphur Springs." She knew from the begin- ning that this was going to be a huge undertaking, and she approached it with the understanding that what was needed was "a substantial amount of money." Her thinking has paid off in a big way. In the search for possible grants, Berg talked with Terry Benoit, a hydrologist with Feather River Coordi- nated Resource Management, who told her about a Caltrans grant, as he had received one for work on Sulphur Creek. (The ranch is within the Sul- phur Creek subwatershed.) When she heard about it, she thought, "White Sulphur Springs would be perfect" for this grant which is a mitiga- tion grant for the effect of highway projects, "and this roject happens to sit in,,the perfect location for that, she said. Briefly, the grant is meant to be "compensation for the impacts that the highway had on the aesthetic (and) the scenic values of the valley, the water resources of the valley.., if you read the Sulphur Creek watershed as- sessment, the highway is one of the major impacts in the Mohawk Valley. For Sulphur Creek and the hydrology of this watershed, the highway is a major disruption, so miti- gation for:it makes sense." Berg framed the grant by focusing on these mitigation issues, she said. There were a number of highway projects nearby: highway widening, work at A15 (within sight of the property), work in Sul- phur Creek and then down at Whitehawk Ranch. The prox- imity of these projects is what helped White Sulphur Springs qualify for the grant. Further, the highway widening encroached on the ranch's parking area. The Caltrans grant -- [or an astounding $500,000-- came through this April. It is specifically for property acquisition. To get a grant of that size in this economic climate suddenly makes the stewardship council and its desire to save the ranch viable, not only in the com- munity's eyes but, more importantly, in the eyes of other grant funders. Most important of all, this funding, along with Berg's and the council's vision, has enabled a working relation- ship with the landowner, Steven Luczo, and his finan- cial advisor, Jack May. "The grant really gave us credibility with them," said Berg. Luczo is very philan- thropically minded. In deal- ing with him for acquisition of the property, however, because he has such a sub- stantial investment, "this had to be a business deal. They weren't going to just walk away from it." The grant let Luczo and May know that the steward- ship council "is serious," said Berg, "is a group (they) can deal with." Berg said May has been ex- ceedingly helpful, meeting with the group, tracking the grant and providing the "willing seller" agreement re- quired for grant applications. A view of the interior of White Sulphur Springs Ranch house as it appears today. The wood that has been placed over the windows to prevent further decay is visible, in marked juxtaposition to the flocked Victorian wallpaper that remains from the home's heyday. Photo by Bill Tantau "We needed a lot of stuff, and he stepped up to the plate and made sure that we had it." Luczo has been watching the group's progress carefully. Now, because of this good working relationship, Berg said, "they are diligently working to make this happen together." The terms of the Caltrans grant require that the money be used b, June 2011, so the property acquisitio n will need to take place by that time. An additional requirement of the grant, which is also a boon, is that the property must be preserved in per- petuity. That means it can never be subdivided and new houses can never be built on it. "The grant effectively seals the deal that this property will be preserved as it is, as a historic property," which Berg terms "a really Members of the Mohawk Valley Stewardship Council at a recent fundraising dinner for White Sulphur Springs at Whitehawk Ranch. From left: Susan Pettinato, Alice Berg, Ginny Liljefelt, Bill Tantau and Sally Tantau. Photo by Tom Thompson positive thing for the valley." With acquisition moving forward, the group can next turn its attention to restora- tion. Berg's familiarity with resource management comes from a background that in- cludes a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in natural resource management. She currently works as a consulting fish- eries biologist, and she has extensive experience with stream and watershed restra- tion and environmental monitoring. She combines this exper- tise with a strong sense of community and history. "What a great thing to be able to have a place for the entire community and tourists driving through to be able to stop and enjoy. It's not going to be just an isolated parcel somewhere. It sits right here on the (highway) 89, and everybody can use it." In addition to the Caltrans grant, the stewardship council also received a $500 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preserva- tion specifically for "seed money" to begin a capital campaign to restore the historic main building at the ranch. Berg has another grant in the works with the state parks for restoration of the main building. She was concerned that members of the public understand this bond money is set aside for projects like this one. It does not take away from the needs of Plumas Eureka State Park, for eample. "Wc'rc not in competition with Johnsville. We wouldn't want to be. This is a separate bond fund (that) the project happens to qualify for." Berg and the council, not surprisingly given their clarity in other areas, have a very specific vision for the property. First, they want to restore the pool, possibly extending it to Olympic size, with a children's area or a separate children's pool. Then, they want to land- scape the grounds so that they're useable for picnics, weddings, reunions and school groups. The amphitheater, with its signature stone fire pit, will be restored so that it can host musical and dramatic presen- tations along with environ- mental education events. After that, they'll work on the "interpretive trails... that will interpret all the natural and cultural re- sources on this property." The land extends up and back through 38 acres, in- cluding a pond that might lure Thoreau, hot sulfur springs and, they believe (though they haven't verified it yet), Maidu cultural sites. The trails, said Berg, "would wind back and provide the public access to forest service lands, because they're back there, but you can't get to them through all of this private property in the valley. This would be a trail- head here; they could walk or take mountain bikes through here." According to Berg, Greg Williams, who owns Lost Sierra Bicycle Shop in Graeagle, "has plans for major trails that will connect with White Sulphur Springs from Portola and Calpine. There's a historic raih-oad grade back there, which would be perfect (for the trail) that goes all the way to Calpine and Carman Valley." See Ranch, page 16B f Y