Burton Homestead in Nevada County provides space for nature awareness programs | TheUnion.com

Burton Homestead in Nevada County provides space for nature awareness programs

Jesse Locks
Submitted to The Union

At the end of her life, retired Nevada County librarian Francis Burton received numerous offers from developers and real estate agents for her beautiful park-like 38-acres along Lake Vera Purdon Road. She turned them all away. Instead, she wanted her land to remain as it was, and she donated the property to Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT), an accredited land trust based in Grass Valley, for the purpose of creating a space dedicated to education and the love of nature.

Over the last 10 years, Burton Homestead has acted as an outdoor classroom for the next generation of conservationists with programs such as BYLT’s summer nature camps for kids, Sierra Harvest’s education farm The Food Love Project, and Four Elements Earth Education (4EEE) – home of the Fox Walkers Youth Programs, which focuses on teaching earth skills like tracking, wilderness survival and nature awareness.

In September, BYLT transferred ownership of Burton Homestead to 4EEE, which will allow the not-for-profit to expand their community services and programming. This is BYLT’s second ownership transfer, the first being the North Star House to the North Star Conservancy. BYLT will still hold a conservation easement — a voluntary legal agreement between the landowner and the land trust that restricts the use of a particular property in order to protect its conservation values at Burton Homestead. In addition, a trail easement will also be held by BYLT on the Yewi’im Bom Loop Trail so that public access will be assured forever. Both documents are recorded in the form of a grant deed and are binding on successive owners of the property in perpetuity.

In other words, it is forever.

Bear Yuba Land Trust Co-Executive Director Erin Tarr explains: “Our goal, as an organization, is to permanently protect land and steward these lands to enhance our community’s resilience to climate change impacts and natural disasters. Sometimes a landowner donates their property to us and includes conservation values they wish us to uphold. Our goal is to ensure that land is forever used in the way the donor intends. Transferring land to responsible organizations that are willing and able to continue to steward the lands in this way allows BYLT to free up resources to put into new conservation projects.”

Learning place

Rick Berry, founder and director of 4EEE, began with the Tracker School in 1986 at the age of 15, and has been teaching these skills for the past 28 years. After graduating with a bachelor’s from Humboldt State University in Arcata, Berry honed his skills in the remote Klamath Mountain range where he immersed himself for 12 years in indigenous life-ways. They were passed on to him by Gary Morris, who himself had lived with Yurok Elder Calvin Rube for 20 years.

Berry taught with both Jon Young and Tom Brown Jr., through the Tracker School’s Coyote Camps, and served seven years as Director of The Children of the Earth Foundation (COTEF). Earlier this year COTEF was dissolved and all of their programs have been merged under the direction of Berry and 4EEE.

“4EEE focuses on teaching Earth skills; skills that immerse the student into the environment, giving them first-hand experience of how to read the landscape as a steward of the Earth,” Berry said. “Through our programs, a re-thinking of our relationship to nature begins to occur. Nature is not simply a ‘resource’ that we control as a product, but a relationship we must cultivate. Students are introduced to the world of the unseen and eternal, tapping into ‘the spirit that moves in all things’ as awareness and skills are woven together to serve as a foundation for creating visionary leaders.”

In 2018, 4EEE offered a total of 64 local and regional programs serving more than 800 children, teens, adults and families. Approximately 90% of the program offerings take place at The Burton Homestead. Over time the outreach of 4EEE programs has extended to include regional and national areas as well.

In addition, special programs have been developed over the past few years for Victor Services (for children at risk), Indigenous People’s Days, RISE: Resources for Indian Student Education, Pit River Tribal Youth, Handicapped Youth from Nevada Union, Boy Scout Troops and Girl Scout groups, International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, and UC Berkeley, as well as numerous field trips for local schools, both at Burton and at the schools.

Critical component

“I do not know how we, such a small non-profit with only part-time administrative support, could have made this purchase happen without our board of directors,” Berry said. “In particular, I want to acknowledge the leadership and direction of our president of the board, Sandy Spurgeon. Her background as past executive director for the Tahoe Parks and Recreation District was a great asset, but her expertise as a local realtor was invaluable. Each of the other board members played such a significant role including Michelle Margulies as our treasurer, Susan Lee, Bill Gaffney, Tracy Bryan, Reinette Senum, and Scot Woodland. I would be remiss not to also thank Katherine Doolittle for her efforts in recruiting and serving as staff to the board. This is the very best of community coming together.”

“Burton Homestead is a beautiful example of BYLT fulfilling the intentions of the donor, Francis Burton, and 4EEE has been a critical component of this success,” Tarr said. “The programs, such as Fox Walkers, that 4EEE offers, are unlike any other in the region. Rick and his staff are providing local youth, and increasingly youth from around the country, opportunities to connect with nature in ways that build confidence and understanding of the world around them in a very holistic way. Many at BYLT have children that have gone through these programs and we have seen first-hand the benefits it provides. BYLT’s board of directors have taken careful steps to ensure 4EEE is ready for the increased responsibilities of land ownership and stewardship. Their board and staff really stepped up to the challenge and has been able to set down permanent roots in our community. This is what Francis Burton wanted for her land. We are thrilled to transfer ownership to such a deserving organization that works so hard to provide our children the ability and skills to be one with nature.”

Source: Bear Yuba Land Trust

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