Vision for this land

A Vision for the Park

We are very fortunate to have a community of caring environmentalists. David Donnenfield is an award-winning producer, director, and cinematographer who lives in Petaluma.

David created a documentary entitled, "A Simple Question: A Story of Straw" 

(Straw: Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed)

"A Simple Question" has been featured in more than 25 international film festivals where it has received multiple awards.

David's film takes 25 minutes to watch. We assure you that you will be inspired!

PBS version

Below is David's vision for the Scott Ranch, which Petalumans for Responsible Planning support. We are grateful for David's positive, hopeful look into the future for this land.


An Alternative Vision for Scott Ranch

David Donnenfield


What’s an alternative use of the 58 acres of Scott Ranch from what is currently proposed? An Environmental Restoration Learning Center. On that tortured piece of property, we have the opportunity to both recover a damaged riparian landscape and also engage the community in its recovery. Rather than turn the red barn into an agricultural museum of past practices, we need a hands-on educational environmental science center where students of all ages can engage in the art and science of ecological restoration that prepares them for the future. This is one of the great environmental challenges that awaits our children. We can help them learn this critical enterprise. The irony is, we already have a nationally-proven model right here in Petaluma: STRAW — Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed. It is a nationally recognized program of innovative education and community-directed restoration. The property should become a workshop and laboratory for enlightened place-based teaching where students can get dirty doing hands-on work to bring back nature in the place near where they live. This could be a shared facility between Sonoma and Marin Counties, supported by individual schools, boards, and the county’s offices of education.


STRAW is housed within the world class science research organization, Pt. Blue Conservation Science, which itself could be a fabulous resource for students and teachers to learn of their ground-breaking projects all over the globe. Classrooms could link to them on site through telecommunications technology to learn about their fascinating work providing new insights and information: a front seat to discovery. Think of the ways that families and volunteers could be engaged on the property to help resurrect a functioning ecosystem that supports populations of Burrowing Owls and Western Bluebirds. Maybe that’s through building and posting Bluebird boxes, or planting native grasses, or creating willow walls to protect the creek banks. Students can learn how to do surveys, conduct transects, observe Nature and describe it, draw it, research it. Kids love being outdoors and discovering, and this is a most engaging way to introduce them to working science.


The particular values in utilizing the resource in this way is that, first of all, it protects it from use and abuse by random visitors. All visitors to the facility will be under the supervision of teachers, docents and staff so that the natural resource, and the work going on to restore it, is protected. Its connection to Helen Putnam Park will serve only as a riparian corridor for animals to transit, not as just another entrance to HPRP. Secondly, the focus is on both science-directed restoration of a wild creek and its surroundings, and on learning at various levels about the different communities, their interdependencies, and the habitat they need to survive. Third, it gives community members a way to participate and contribute to reviving a land parcel and restoring its vibrance and fecundity, now and long into the future. Fourth, I have seen this hands-on, place-based approach revive burnt-out teachers who themselves find inspiration and renewed purpose by engaging in such work.


STRAW has a history of binding communities where antagonist constituencies have come together and undertaken this special kind of work. It has brought people together in the cause of Nature and combatting climate change, concern for our children’s welfare, and a yearning for Beauty. It is uplifting. It doesn’t just change minds, it changes hearts. People heal themselves as they heal the Earth. The results it produces and the inspiration it engenders becomes self-sustaining. We can do this at Scott Ranch and let it serve as an inspiration and model for our own communities and others. Let’s vision a different future . . . a better future.