Just before the Hood Mountain Regional Park parking lot, a narrow road barely big enough for a car climbs into the forest. Paved in parts, the road twists and rises until it reaches a mountain meadow that has served as a family’s gathering place for five generations.
Offering sweeping views of Sonoma County, the 289-acre property, called El Recreo, burned in both the 2017 and 2020 wildfires.
But it has recovered slowly, and all the while shaped the lives of its caretakers in the Perrin, Bucklin, Tilt and English families. Now, in a deal with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, El Recreo is set to remain preserved as conservation land.
The district is in the homestretch of purchasing a $898,000 conservation easement for the property – a complicated process that has taken about nine years, needing buy-in from all of the property’s 13 owners. The easement will extinguish future development rights on the land, meaning it would be permanently protected even if sold.
“It just seemed like the natural thing to do,” said Arden Bucklin-Sporer, whose family owns the property.
It borders Hood Mountain on the north side, overlooking Oakmont. The property will not be opened to the public and will remain available for the family’s private use.
But the benefits of preserving land like El Recreo as a conservation area extend beyond public recreation, said Lauren Alpert, a community relations assistant for the open space district.
“When you’re protecting areas like this you’re protecting watershed, clean air,” Alpert said. Wildlife habitat – the property takes in headwaters for both the Santa Rosa and Sonoma creek drainages – and scenic viewsheds are other conservation benefits.
Alpert added that El Recreo will also serve as an important wildland buffer for its neighboring developed communities including Oakmont and Kenwood.
This is not the family’s first foray into conservation. Bucklin-Sporer’s mother and stepfather were Anne and Otto Teller, local land stewardship visionaries who helped found the Sonoma Land Trust.
It was Bucklin-Sporer’s grandmother, Adelaid Perrin, who began that family legacy, when she purchased El Recreo for around $48,000 in the 1950s.
Born in Guatemala, Perrin spent her early childhood on a coffee farm until the family moved back to California following her father’s death from malaria, Bucklin-Sporer said.
An “ardent admirer” of nature, independent and with “energy off the wall,” Perrin turned her attention to finding a family retreat once her three daughters were grown. It was El Recreo’s wild meadow nestled near the top of the mountain that sealed the deal, Bucklin-Sporer said.
Over the years the family left much of the land untouched, but built two homes and a swimming pool near the meadow. It was there that Anne Teller would bring her four children from their home in San Francisco during the weekends, and for weeks during the summer. She used it to teach them self-sufficiency, economy and an appreciation for the natural world.
“I think all of us are the way we are because of this place,” Bucklin-Sporer said.
Growing up, Bucklin-Sporer and her siblings would ride horses, care for injured birds they found including owls and a vulture, and acquired skills including identifying animal tracks.
Many have since pursued careers connected to land stewardship and ecology, including farming, restoration and nonprofit work, Bucklin Sporer said.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area encompassing El Recreo, praised the family’s “extraordinary legacy they have, and continue to leave.”
“You need to take responsibility and manage the land,” Gorin said. “Especially in threat of fire.”
The family is both city and country, Bucklin-Sporer joked as she walked a grassy path to a knoll on a recent sunny morning.
Strolling along in Birkenstocks, undaunted by the prickly underbrush and ever-present threat of rattlesnakes, Bucklin-Sporer chewed on a blade of grass and led the way to a knoll overlooking Hood Mountain. Her rescue dog Xochi followed behind.
The destination held special meaning. It is where Bucklin-Sporer’s brother got married, and where their grandmother, mother and aunts’ ashes now rest.
“They burned twice so that’s good,” Bucklin-Sporer said, sharing some of her dry humor as she referenced the 2017 and 2020 wildfires
The wildfires ripped through El Recreo, leaving behind scorched trees and taking the family’s two homes.
The foundation and chimney of the house that Bucklin-Sporer’s parents built stood still. A partial brick wall also remains, holding a rusted sign bearing the home’s 8000 address.
Bucklin-Sporer said she visits the site frequently to check on its status.
The loss was devastating.
Though the family’s many generations are now far flung, with members in San Francisco and beyond, El Recreo remains their heart, Bucklin-Sporer said.
The property now serves as their camp. Two tents and an Airstream trailer sit around a pool that survived the fires at the far end of the meadow. An outdoor wooden stand spruced up with string lights and complete with a sink, grill and griddle make up a kitchen of sorts.
The choice to keep the property “wild” is a reflection of Perrin’s love for all things nature, and Anne Teller’s commitment to low-impact living, Bucklin-Sporer said.
“That was my mother’s perspective,” she noted. “You want to keep it simple, you don’t want a lot of water use, you want to keep it thrifty.”
Following the wildfires, the family has watched the land grow back slowly and in some surprising ways.
Bucklin-Sporer said they have seen new types of woodpeckers on the property, as well as more quail.
Her youngest son, August Sporer, 30, observed that more wildflowers are visible in the places where trees burned.
The conservation deal allows the owners to build two homes on the property, to replace the ones that burned. Bucklin-Sporer and her siblings and cousins have left that decision to the next generation.
“I’m curious and keen to know what they want to do with it,” Bucklin-Sporer said.
The rest of the property will remain as is, and much like it was decades ago.
August Sporer praised the decision.
“This was a fantastic way to make sure this stays in the family,” Sporer said.
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.