20th Anniversary: S.W.A.P. Saves Los Osos, CA Elfin Forest

The Sun Bulletin, formerly a publication owned by the SLO Tribune, published this headline on March 2, 1994:  “SAVE THE ELFIN FOREST BY APRIL 1 – NO JOKE.” Members of S.W.A.P. (Small Wilderness Area Preservation) faced losing $1, 350,000 in promised grant funding if they couldn’t raise the balance of $125,000.

Recently at a 20-year celebration gathering, Chairman Ron Rasmussen reported support for the El Moro Elfin Forest is stable and their agreement with SLO County supervisors to maintain the public access area has been renewed. (www.elfin-forest.org) Charter member, Yolanda Waddell, provided a brief history and kudos to those who led the historic community campaign to preserve in perpetuity the parkland adjacent to the Morro Bay Estuary.

Barbara Machado chaired the fund development committee that included Rose Bowker, who was recognized for single-handedly securing a million dollars in grants. “Once grant funding was announced perception of possible success became probable success. Then the community stepped up,” said Elsie Dietz, Events Chairman in 1994. “It was my job to make people aware of the Elfin Forest so they would want to donate. It’s important that all levels from children to adults contributed.”

She explained children donated their allowances. Teachers held classroom penny campaigns. Multi-media support included continuous updates and events’ notices by the Sun Bulletin, Tribune and Bay News. Public events were uniquely designed to create a memorable experience before a donation envelope was passed by S.W.A.P. members. Dietz held a wine tasting party where winemaker Ken Volk sampled his Rain Forest Red, wine labeled specifically to support the effort with a percentage of sales. A Chamber of Commerce mixer included pans of donated fish and side dishes served in baskets hanging from the convoluted limbs of the elfin pigmy oaks.

Former Sun Bulletin columnist and community organizer, Ann Calhoun remarked her favorite event was when 100 attendees hiked the Elfin Forest path to hear a harpsichord in a pigmy oak tree grove. Dietz retold the story. “We used a travoir (a Native American transport device) to carry the harpsichord to Wood-Rat Hall (later renamed Rose’s Grove). I remember someone named Valerie was in full costume – a turquoise gown with a large hooped skirt swinging and bouncing off both sides of the path. There was a mime performing on a Persian rug and not a sound except the music. It was a magical moment.”

Waddell noted it was also the 20th anniversary for the El Forest mural created and painted by Barbara Rosenthal on Los Osos Rexall’s outside wall. “The hardest part,” said Rosenthal,” was finding all the donors who made it happen.” The committee’s goal was to remember everyone who gave a dollar or a major gift to preserve the Elfin Forest.

Walk the Elfin Forest and enjoy the pathway to the Estuary and bay overlook, the unique vegetation, and the memories of times past.

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