Origins: How we came to be
West Marin Commons was born of a desire to foster a social complement to the scenic landscape and natural ecology that we in West Marin work so hard to protect. In particular, we have worked to create common spaces for spontaneous sociability and community activities; to cultivate native plants in a way that reinforces the symbiosis between inhabitants and habitat; and to establish social infrastructure for the sharing of rides, garden produce, tools and household stuff.
The organization began in the fall of 2006 as a series of gatherings in living rooms and public venues to discuss the concept of the commons and how it could enrich life here in West Marin. Then came a talk and slide presentation by Mark Lakeman, a founder of the City Repair Project in Portland, Oregon, which has led a commons revival in that city at the neighborhood level.
There was such enthusiasm after Lakeman’s talk that we set aside a day to survey the state of the commons in our town. (In Medieval times such surveys were annual events called “perambulations.” ) On a rainy Saturday in February, 2007, over 70 residents walked through town in small groups, to see our common spaces and places as they are, and to imagine how they could be. The groups gathered afterwards to share ideas; and local architects took their ideas and, over the following weeks, rendered them in visual form.
The architects presented the ideas at another community meeting, and West Marin Commons emerged from this process. The early community brainstorming is an inspiration rather than a blueprint. We have focused on a few projects and we work with new opportunities and ideas as they arise within the capacity of our structure and community supporters.
The Town Commons
Between 2011 and 2017, with support from the County of Marin and others, we leased the corner lot in Point Reyes Station, which we managed as a town commons. Much of what showed up on that small corner - from overflowing trash bins to volunteer work days to Mexican Independence Day celebrations, in a busy and heavily tourist impacted town overwhelmed as a destination in an unincorporated region - continues to challenge the day-to-day life of those who live and work here.
The Native Plant Garden at the Livery Stable
Early in 2007, West Marin Commons set to work with Marshall Livingston, who owns the Livery Stable building in Point Reyes Station, to create a common garden space there.
The original idea was a ”food forest,” which is an edible landscape that provides fruits and vegetables as well as greenery. Scott Davidson and Jessie Servi, then of the Regenerative Design Institute, gave generously of their time to design the site. We hired the Inverness Gardening Service to remove buried asphalt from a prior use, and brought in manure from the Giacomini Ranch. We sponsored a sheet mulching workshop with Permaculture Marin.
Then a soil test raised issues that stemmed from the prior use. The test was not conclusive, but we decided to err on the side of caution. The Ethnobiology Project, an early study group of the West Marin Commons, offered an alternative – a native garden dedicated to plants that are indigenous to this place.
Guidance on design came from Judith Lowry of Larner Native Seeds, the author of Gardening with a Wild Heart, and Landscaping Ideas of Jays (www.larnerseeds.com(link is external)). Rufus Blunk, a local artist and landscaper, led the actual planting, and also the building of a fence, arbors, gates and archway – all from reclaimed materials. The archway serves as a support for climbing native vines including pipevine, wild grapevine, and local clematis.
There weremany volunteer workdays, involving young and old and in between. Volunteers helped plant the native wild strawberries, yerba buena, coyote bush, and pink-flowering currant. Many of the plants were donated. A commons embodies the economics of community, and this native garden is an example.
With the Mainstreet Moms and dozens of others, we held a ceremonial planting after Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. More than fifty people showed up to plant native red-berried evergreens and hazelnut “trees of hope.” We found a home for the fruit trees originally planted in the Restoration Garden in an expanding Production Garden at West Marin School. (The trees had to be moved because of the lingering questions about the soil.)
Marshall Livingston for offering his place, and to Ann Sheree Greenbaum for focused initial steps.
Native Plant Restoration Garden design donated by Judith Lowry, of Larner Seeds www.larnerseeds.com(link is external).
Butterfly habitat consultation thanks to eye-opening caterpillar-butterfly lady Barbara Deutsch.
Planning, fundraising, enthusiasm, and sheet mulching workshop thanks to Jessy Servi and Scott Davidson; herbal spiral guidance from Molly Myerson; all with generous support from Permaculture Marin volunteers.
Reclaimed fence and gate construction, and arbor, a gift of artist Rufus Blunk.
Inverness Garden Club for plant donations Summer 2009
Many thanks to West Marin Commons volunteers of all ages, and the contributions of many in the community.
Mesa Road Pathway in Point Reyes Station
For years, a public right-of-way along Mesa Road, behind Toby’s Feed Barn and the Building Supply store, was overgrown with weeds and brush. Many residents didn’t know that the right-of-way was even there. Then the new toddler playground and public restrooms were installed across the road, and the need for a walkway out of traffic became urgent.
Participants identified this as a priority during the commons survey in February 2007; and Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey raised it as well. In the spring and summer of that year, West Marin Commons organized volunteer crews to clear out the weeds and trash. Then, in 2008, funds came from Supervisor Kinsey through the West Marin Chamber of Commerce. We worked with the Chamber, local businesses, the toddler playground committee, and volunteers to plan a pedestrian path that would provide safe access and also a touch of grace to that neglected strip.
The Building Supply store took the lead when it installed a decomposed granite walkway behind their own business. We retained the Inverness Gardening Service to extend the path behind Toby’s. The Palace Market soon moved the dumpsters that for years had been an obstacle to pedestrians. The market installed flower boxes as well.
During those two early years, West Marin Commons organized some twenty volunteer workdays. Volunteers pulled weeds and picked up trash. Judith Lowry provided guidance on plant choices and design, based on native plants. Rufus Blunk oversaw the plantings, placement of irrigation, and stump removal. Dozens of volunteers contributed hundreds of hours pulling weeds, picking up trash, mulching, and planting. Also, local native plant enthusiasts donated plants, including the endemic Mount Vision Ceanothus.
Many thanks to Judith Lowry and Rufus Blunk for their generous and expert help; and also to the Inverness Garden Club for a grant that enabled us to purchase plants.
You’ll discover some of the following plants along the pathway:
Epilobium canum California fucshia
Artemisia douglasiana Mugwort
Baccharis pilularis Dwarf Coyote Bush
Artemisia californica Coast sagebrush
Achillea millefolium var. californicum Yarrow
Escholzia californica var. maritime coastal California poppy
Ribes sanguineum – Pink flowering currant
Mimulus Monkey Flower
Eriophyllum staechadifolium Lizard Tail
Please help out by picking up trash along the way and join us at future volunteer work parties …