21 Aug 2014
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Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight

Community acts to save historic farmland and wildlife habitat

Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight Paula Lane Open Space Preserve in Sight

The city will soon begin negotiations to purchase the Paula Lane Open Space Preserve, an 11 acre private property in West Petaluma that contains critical wildlife habitat for hummingbirds, hawks and the American badger.

The decision, which would open the land to the public, is a long awaited one for the Paula Lane Action Network (PLAN), a nonprofit organized in 2001 to defeat then-proposed residential development of the property.

The preserve is located in one of Petaluma's oldest agricultural communities and includes the Pauli family farmhouse, which dates back to 1897. There are also five small farms on Paula Lane, covering almost 25 acres. 

Check out a  video of some of the plants and wildlife found at the preserve. 

The organization has been working with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which uses county tax revenues to protect land from future development.

"To have the community involved in helping to save land and habitat, and then to partner with the city of Petaluma, is something we think is a good sustainability model—working together to protect our resources," says PLAN board member Susan Kirks.

The preserve would have a public access trail along the perimeter, offer guided tours and two wildlife-viewing areas overlooking the seasonal wetlands and grasslands. The preserve will be also be a place that seniors and disabled people living in the surrounding neighborhoods can easily access, Kirks said.

And with several schools within walking distance, teachers would also be able to bring their students for community gardening, native plant restoration or wildlife identification.

But in addition to offering the public an escape from the city, it will protect wildlife, including badgers, listed as a "species of special concern."

"It's important to keep this land undeveloped," said wildlife biologist Kim Fitts. "The badgers stay only up to a week in one place, and must have a means of moving back and forth."

Patrick Kelly, who has lived opposite the property for 30 years, is also looking forward to having the property saved from development.

"You see the deer out there in the morning and it's beautiful," Kelly says. "It's nature. It's just nice to have it around you."

PLAN hopes the transfer of ownership will happen over the next several months. When it does, it will be the culmination of a decade of hard work.

"It's a remarkable endeavor that anyone has stayed with the project this long," says Joan Vilms, an Open Space District founder. 

But at the end of day, this fight is about one thing: saving Sonoma County's open spaces.

"We hope the preserve will offer respite from urban life and be a place for people to renew and resonate with nature," Kirks said. "A place that enhances the whole community."

Paula Lane Action Network is holding a fundraiser Jan. 15 at Aqus Cafe. For more information, visit their website.

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