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Caspar, our home village

Caspar from the air -- click for a larger imageWe make our home in the small village of Caspar, founded no longer than 130 years ago by a reclusive German immigrant looking for peace and abundant nature. Not long afterward, the coast redwoods were identified as "red gold" and Caspar became a lumber boom town.
By 1904, Caspar was a booming city of 5,000 souls. The mill, its economic heart, was kept at technology's cutting edge by enlightened owners and a workforce constantly puzzling how to do their work faster, safer, more efficiently. Early film of the operation shows that this is the mill where men worked out how to work with the biggest saw logs ever. The innovative spirit survives, even though the mill closed in 1955.
By a semi-lucky accident, the new highway, buyilt in 1962, blows over a high bridge above Caspar creek, a freeway for wildlife in the huge state forest just east of the coastal plain and passes Caspar to the east. We were spared the nightmare of a town with a main highway for a main street, even though our community was severed by the high-speed thoroughfare. Most visitors barely note "downtown Caspar" west of the highway, below the ocean view. The church spire, dumpy schoolhouse, and random aggregation of buildings adds a human touch to the spectacular panorama.
When the mill closed and the highway passed us by, Caspar's economic heart stopped pumping and the town's reason for being shrivelled and changed. Caspar became a bedroom suburb and a backwater -- perfect for recluses and folks seeking a little village with their back to the land. Michael arrived in 1969, bought a derelict property in mid-town, exported 16 truckloads of trash to the dump, and started renovations which continue to this day. One of the houses is "very old" by Caspar standards, its core having been built before 1890; it served variously as a home for the mill superintendent, a hospital, a hotel, and then an apartment building. Michael's daughter Sienna was born in an upstairs bedroom in 1971. Two years later, the local hospital had adjusted its attitude and fathers were allowed to "catch" their children in the delivery room, and Damiana was born there. Rochelle and Chad moved to the coast in 1974, and to Caspar in 1980. This makes us all old-timers by local standards, and two of us qualify as native Casparados, a rare and vanishing breed, but there's a world of difference between our recent understanding of Caspar and the wisdom possessed by those who lived here for centuries. We miss them and their accumulated knowledge of how to live well in this edgy place.
In the years between 1955 and 1990, Caspar's citizenry distinguished themselves mostly by their invisibility, with a few notable exceptions: They appeared in force to oppose off-shore oil exploration, lobbied intensively for the Coastal Protection act, and worked hard to define the Local Coastal Plan even as we knew that our wishes and good sense would never make their way undiluted over the coast range to Ukiah, Mendocino's county seat. We proved ourselves to be formidable as reactionaries. Located between the formerly red-neck logging town of Fort Bragg and the thoroughly carmelized village of Mendocino. Caspar's struggle -- already lost in Mendocino, and being lost in Fort Bragg -- is to preserve a serene and natural life in the face of population pressure, especially tourism and "second-home-ism". The extreme example of these effects on a town is Carmel, California, a community that has been gentrified into terminal quaintness for decades ...hence the term "carmelized".
In 1989, population pressure and a shortage of developable oceanfront land thrust Caspar, and the nearly 300 acres of open space in its heart, into the crosshairs of the speculator's big guns. Casparados new and old felt the presure, and organized. By 1995, when development seemed inevitable, we decided that we'd like to be proactive for a change. We started hatching a consensus-based, inclusive community organization to envision changes that would enhance Caspar's best qualities, provide for the foreseeable lacks, and model ways of managing change that didn't involve reaction and polarization. Michael joined a small group of "steerers" who have since become the Caspar Community board. The community has conducted a careful "visioning" with the help of community developers from the University of California at Berkeley, carried the findings to Ukiah and Sacramento, California's capital, and come away with thanks, interest, lots of favorable press, and $5.3 million so far for the preservation of Caspar's most sacred areas. The headlands and riparian are safe.


Michael Potts, webster
updated 21 May 2001 : 14:39 Caspar (Pacific) time
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