Exploring the Bay Area’s “Islands of Wildness”

January 20, 2012

Editor’s note: Craig Anderson is the recipient of Bay Nature’s 2014 Local Hero Award in the category of Conservation Action. For more information about Craig’s award and Bay Nature’s upcoming Annual Awards Dinner in March, please click here.

A seasoned climber, hiker, outdoorsman, and lifelong world traveler, Craig Anderson could have remained an “itinerant geographer and outdoor guide”. Instead, he moved to Sonoma County fifteen years ago, signed up to work for a brand-new nonprofit called LandPaths, and stayed to help people from all walks of life learn to steward and enjoy the wild places in their own backyards.

BN: Are you a Bay Area native?

CA: Yes. I’m a fourth-generation San Franciscan – my dad’s mom and sisters lived through the 1906 earthquake – but our family had a generational lapse of consciousness and moved to Southern California for a while. We all moved back later thanks to inspiration from my brother, a painter, in the form of a postcard of Hetch-Hetchy Valley. It reminded us of what we were missing. I received a master’s in ecology from Cal.

BN: I understand you migrated around quite a bit before settling back here, though. Tell us about a few of the many landscapes you’ve worked and travelled in.

CA: The fifteen years I’ve spent at at LandPaths have been my most settled – before that I was an itinerant geographer and outdoor guide.

I’ve worked at nonprofits since I was 19, starting with one in the Channel Islands. I later worked for the Nature Conservancy at the McCloud River Preserve, and at  two outdoor schools based in Ojai (Thatcher and Ojai Valley Schools) for at-risk kids in the northern Sierra for nine summers. I also co-led a series of college semester programs in New Zealand and the Caribbean, travelled to Asia five times, and climbed in Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.

With every experience I’ve ever had, I’ve tried to get out and see the world and understand people’s sense of place through their eyes. This has informed who I am – not simply to enjoy the landscape, but to be engaged in it.

BN: How would you describe LandPaths’ mission?

CA: We’re out to save the world one little place at a time. We allow people who live here to make the changes; they’re the one creating the community . We give them that space to make those changes and the tools and knowledge to make those changes.

Relationship with land can be one of the best community-strengthening activities people can engage in. Working on the same acorn-planting project, being tied to a place, can better our community.

People are looking to belong to a landscape, either a large area like the Bay Area or a single state park. To belong to, to give back to, be challenged by -even to pray, or not pray, in a place. The most significant thing we’ve done is to provide people in our region with the sense that their landscape matters in determining who they are, and that their landscape needs them – young or old, professional or working-class.

BN: What’s one of the most pressing issues you are working on these days?

CA: Given the State Parks’ lean budget, we are creating a system of sister preserves that we are owning and stewarding for the public benefit so people can have access to everything from an urban food-growing place like Bayer Farm in the middle of a working class neighborhood of Santa Rosa, to the wild lands outside of Healdsburg. We’re providing people with access to these natural places so they can take responsibility for them. Sonoma County Regional Parks – the agency stepping in to take the lead to manage Annadel State Park – has created a coalition of local nonprofits to help. We are humbled, and hopeful, by an invitation to be part of this effort.

BN: What’s your favorite park, hike, or place to go in nature in the Bay Area?

CA: I love going paddling down the Tuolumne River and mountaineering far afield; but the most satisfying “meal” for me is heading down the Russian River from Geyserville to the sea. In fact, I love trying to go across Sonoma County just by human power – walking, riding, and paddling. I love our county, including its city islands, farm lands and wildness. The landscape is one – and if we see it that way we can be better stewards of its entirety.

To learn more about Craig’s work, visit

About the Author

Beth Slatkin is Bay Nature's marketing and outreach director.