Research facility to serve unique 3,117-acre Pepperwood PreserveNORTH BAY – Inspired by ruins of ancient cliff dwellings, the new educational center at Pepperwood Preserve is built into the hillside and is comprised of unfinished raw materials that will weather and take on a natural patina.

Similar materials are used inside and out so, said Ned Forrest, the architect of the sustainable structure, it feels like you could be in or out of the building.

The concept follows what is being done at the more than 3,000-acre Pepperwood because it is an outdoor research facility; the building will suffice as a component of that study.

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“The spirit of the building is raw, rugged, rustic,” he said. "It is youthful, and I see it as a scientific contraption.”

“It is modern,” he said, “because it is a work in progress.”

This U shaped building, named last week as one of the Business Journal's Top Projects for 2009 (see story Page 2), is the indoor research center for the preserve. Classes, lectures and research projects will be at home in the 9,500-square-foot building.

The building is solid, but the components are designed to be able to shift. The shelving units and walls will be able to move about depending on what is needed.

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The 3,117-acre nature preserve, off Mark West Springs Road northeast of Santa Rosa, was purchased by former high-tech executive Herb Dwight and his wife, Jane, from the California Academy.

“A real estate friend called us up,” Mr. Dwight said on an overcast morning after the recent rain. “He told us there was this property that just came on the market, and we should come look at it.”

In 2005, the Dwights established the Pepperwood Foundation with the vision to purchase the preserve, which they did in the same year, and have since worked steadily to develop it into a research and educational center as well as “a model of effective preservation and management of wildlands.”

Several institutions are affiliated with Pepperwood Preserve, providing educational programs and a resource for doctoral and post-doctoral projects for the University of California, Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College and the California Academy of Sciences, among others. Public access is managed jointly by the preserve and Santa Rosa Junior College.

Mr. Dwight said he wants the preserve to be there to educate people about the environment and to get them involved in the preservation of it.

It is continuously holding sessions where people can come out and help restore the land to its natural state by removing plants and animals that are not indigenous.

The board of the Pepperwood Foundation just announced the appointment of Dr. Lisa Micheli as Pepperwood Preserve’s executive director.

A Switzer Environmental Leader since 2002, Dr. Micheli brings with her more than 20 years of experience in environmental research, policy and community conservation program development.  She worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 watershed program in San Francisco before completing her graduate work at U.C. Berkeley.  Her post-doctoral research at U.C. Davis on the Sacramento River helped to guide the Nature Conservancy’s large-scale restoration effort.

Dr. Micheli will be directing the expansion of Pepperwood’s extensive conservation, education and research programs into the education center.

“Pepperwood provides a rare opportunity for people to connect with our region’s natural heritage. I look forward to the opportunity to grow our programs to serve more and more members of our community,” she said.

She is also exploring the creation of a network of philanthropic efforts to sustain the program and preserve.

“It is a difficult time for public money,” she said. “State of California grants that are proposition bond-funded are not readily available.”

The facility will be open for courses in the spring.