The Essence of Brooktrails
The name "Brooktrails" is tied to three perspectives:
To understand Brooktrails, you must understand all three perspectives.
One perspective derives from the governmental entity
known as the Brooktrails Township which encompasses 12.6 square
miles containing 6,605± parcels
making it the largest community in area in Mendocino County and
which was home to 3,311 residents according to the 2010 Census
making it the fourth largest community in population in Mendocino
Another perspective is an image derived from a confusing mishmash of
conflicting individual opinions held by those who live or own property inside the Township and
those who live elsewhere.
Then there is the vision of the developer of the
Brooktrails Vacation Village subdivisions, a perspective which has
evolved into The Essence of Brooktrails.
Brooktrails Vacation Village
The name of our community comes from the development of the Brooktrails Vacation Village
subdivisions in the late 1960's. Understanding the history behind the development is important to
essence of the Brooktrails Township.
Brooktrails area property was historically used for a wide range of land uses. In the 1880s, the
Brooktrails Township area was occupied by the Northwestern Lumber Company (see
As logging operations ended, the land was sold to the Diamond D Ranch which was a dude
ranch. The Ranch was described in a 1938 update to a travel brochure
on the Lines of Southern Pacific (large file) as follows:
Ultimately, with the approval of the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors the land
was subdivided by Brooktrails Company Ltd., of Beverly Hills and New York as Brooktrails
Vacation Village in the 1960s. Approximately 6,000 lots were created most ranging in size from
one-sixth to one-third of an acre, but with a few larger parcels up to 230 acres. The development
was intended primarily for second homes. Most of the parcels were sold by the early 1970's.
DIAMOND D RANCH. Wallace E. Hiatt, manager. Mail and telegraph
address, Willits, California. Open all year. 50 guests. Rooms with private
bath in main ranch house. Cabins with central shower and toilets. Meals
served in central dining room. Rates, $40 to $50 per week; $150 to $190 per
month, saddle horse included. Private or special guides, $5 per day. Take
Northwestern Pacific Railroad to Willits, California, where ranch car meets
you, no charge. Willits to ranch, 2 miles. Largest cattle ranch in northern
California with guest accommodations. Good horses. Picturesque ranch life,
swimming in private lake, tennis, fishing, small and big game hunting.
Of significance to anyone considering a home in Brooktrails is understanding the expressed intent of the
developer of the Brooktrails Vacation Village. Located approximately three miles west of the
City of Willits, California, and about 20 miles from the coastal community of Fort Bragg,
Brooktrails offers residents an environment within a second growth mixed redwood forest where
you can see the stars at night and breathe clean air while enjoying relatively inexpensive housing.
Key to assuring the continuation of that environment was the dedication of approximately 2,500 acres to the Brooktrails
Resort Improvement District to be preserved as a conservation area. This land is Brooktrails
Redwood Park, some of which is available for recreation and some is considered greenbelt.
The promise of this dedication was discussed extensively in
newspaper articles of
In a December 17, 1967, article in the New York Times, Brooktrails was noted as being the first
community in the United States to blend a four-square-mile redwood and mixed-growth forest
conservation park with a contiguous, fully improved residential area. The term coined for this
residential area built in a forest is hyleopolis (get used to this word).
As explained in a April 11, 1969, Christian Science Monitor article, the term “hyleopolis” refers
to the character of an urban-forest interface where protection of the forest is paramount in order
to retain the community’s essence. This had already been made clear in the lengthy New York
Times article as follows:
That was The Essence of Brooktrails as proposed by the developer and
approved by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors from the beginning. Maintaining that essence is the purpose
Ordinance 63, adopted by the Township Board in 1988 formally establishing the Brooktrails
Redwood Park and
Ordinance 68 adopting a Master Plan for Brooktrails Redwood Park.
The Board of Supervisors of Mendocino County, a north coastal area, is
represented on the board of the Brooktrails Resort Improvement District, to which
the developer dedicated some 2,000 acres for conservation. There is no way, Mr.
Beaumont emphasized, for the developer to regain control of the acreage and
change his plans about conservation, even it he ever wished to do so.
Dr. Gerald Partain, professor of forestry economics at Humboldt State College in
Arcata, to the north, has been retained by the Brooktrails Resort Improvement
District as a consultant for the conservation and recreation aspects. He
expressed excitement over the prospect of setting up a management plan for
the conservation area, "trying our hand at something other than timber
A naturalist guide is in preparation. The park lands are a refuge for deer,
raccoon, red fox and other animals. Professor Partain expects the lands to be a
kind of laboratory for his students. He said a good job performed here in
management practices should convince "developers who are out to make their
buck that conservation practices pay better than jamming houses together."
The tension between the desire to (a) maintain and protect the Redwood Park environment and
(b) permit a comfortable 21st Century suburban lifestyle for Brooktrails residents creates an
ongoing challenge for the Township. Within the Township golf, hiking, picnicking, jogging, and
other activities continue to be readily available.
Brooktrails Township Community Services District
As noted above, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors created the Brooktrails Resort
Improvement District (BRID) and in the early period even had one of the Supervisors serve as a
member of the District’s five member Board of Directors. The successor to BRID is the
Brooktrails Township Community Services District (Township).
As can be seen from the map above, the Township is divided into three service areas:
All other local government services are provided by the County of Mendocino. Of immediate
concern to most residents are police services provided by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s
Department and road maintenance and storm drainage services provided by the Mendocino
County Road Department. The only exception important to some Brooktrails residents is Ells
Field, a small aircraft airport operated by the City of Willits adjacent to and accessed through
- Sylvandale, a large rural parcel subdivision which the Township Fire
Department serves and which according to
2010 Census Data
had a population of 26;
- Spring Creek, a large rural parcel subdivision which receives Township
Fire Department and water utility services and which according to
2010 Census Data
had a population of 40; and
- Brooktrails, mostly made up of small suburban lots surrounding
Brooktrails Redwood Park to which the Township provides Fire, Water,
Sewer, Solid Waste, Parks and Recreation, Planning (a power shared with
the County), and related services, and which according to Census Data (from these
two census totals -
Condor Road Area) had a population of 3,245.
The Township has a five member elected Board of Directors who set policy for the operation of
the District by adopting ordinances, resolutions, and an annual budget. The Board also appoints a
General Manager who implements policies, supervises District finances, and hires and controls
all District employees.
Fire Protection in Brooktrails
By definition a "hyleopolitan" community represents a community at
risk for wildfire. Brooktrails is no exception and is listed on the
national list of communities that are at high risk of damage from
and scroll down for more information). A discussion of the fire
risk particularly within the greenbelt portion of Brooktrails Redwood
Park can be found
obvious fact about being the place for which the term "hyleopolis" was
coined is that the community must acknowledge the wildfire risk and
effectively manage it.
It is important to note that the land area generally logged by
Northwestern Lumber Company and subsequently used by the Diamond D ranch
has not been directly impacted by a large wildfire since the 1944
Ironies #2 Fire seen on the map below with current Brooktrails roads
In 1944 there was no
Department with two full-time professional fire officers and 20+
volunteers, nor were there
CalFire helicopters and bombers dropping water and fire retardant.
No newspaper articles with headlines such as
projects improve Brooktrails fire safety reflected an ongoing
effort to construct fuel break buffers.
Not only do the Brooktrails Fire Department personnel perform the
normal duties associated with fighting fires, responding to medical
emergencies, and working with CalFire on eliminating fire hazards within
Brooktrails Redwood Park, they operate programs specifically oriented to
the hazards facing a hyleopolitan community.
The Brooktrails Fire Department has for three decades maintained an
Hazard Abatement Program
requiring private property owners to
eliminate defined hazards by July 1 of each year. In 2012 the department
issued 1,004 grass and 263 wooded lot notices of hazardous violations.
The Brooktrails Fire Department sponsors the 35 member
Community Emergency Response
Team (CERT), the only one in Mendocino County. It assists with the specialized emergency response needs not only in Brooktrails,
but Willits and Laytonville. While a number of services provided by CERT
volunteers are described on the web site, one includes helping with
evacuation in the face of an approaching 2008 wildfire, which was ultimately suppressed by
fire fighters but threatened homes. Which brings up the problem of
evacuation during emergencies.
Brooktrails has an
CERT volunteers will work with Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies and
Fire Department personnel to assist Brooktrails residents should an
evacuation be necessary. Brooktrails does have only one regular access
road - Sherwood Road. While a second access road is well into the
planning stage, it may be many years before it is constructed. But there
are alternative access emergency routes over private roadways leading
both to U.S. 101 and State Route 20 which would be opened in case of an
emergency. (Note: these are private roadways gated to prevent use except
in an emergency.)
Brooktrails also has a number of special regulations in addition to a
burning ban from June 1 until the first rains each year. Other
regulations designed to prevent fires include a prohibition against the
discharge of firearms, against the use of off-road vehicles in the Park,
and against the picking of mushrooms in the Park because the practice
has attracted many who do not honor the Park's status as a conservation
It is through its Fire Department that Brooktrails Township deals
with the prevention of wildfires and with the suppression of wildfires
with the assistance and support of the CalFire and Little Lake (Willits)
Fire Department personnel and equipment. Township residents support the
Fire Department with a special fire tax and a portion of the small
post-Proposition 13 property tax revenues allocated to the Township.
Benefits Resulting from the Development of Brooktrails
It is hard to place the development of Brooktrails Vacation Village
subdivisions in context. The proper frame of reference is California in
1965. California's population had grown 2½ times in the period from 1940
to 1960. Federal and State loan guarantee programs had pushed home
ownership to an all time high despite the occasional economic downturn.
The reason the Legislature approved the idea of Resort Improvement
Districts was, in part, to keep the economy flowing. Encouraging
second home construction was thought to be good policy.
Obviously, in the late 1960's and early 1970's, the construction of
roads and utility infrastructure - not to mention new homes - provided
an economic boost to the region surrounding Brooktrails. Despite the
occasional economic downturns which affected the entire nation,
Brooktrails has continued to create opportunities for residential
In 2010, the Brooktrails Township had become the community of
full-time residence for 3,311 people. According
to Census Data, in 2010 that population controlled $83,374,291± in annual income
and represented 1,660 people actively employed. This is a substantial
economic contribution to the region.
Brooktrails Redwood Park offers these residents and visitors a
nine-hole golf course, picnic tables at Ohl Grove, a Par Course for
running and exercise, a baseball field, and an extensive forest hiking
trail system. A community center building is available to rent for
But beyond providing facilities for public use, Brooktrails Township residents
have continued to maintain the conservation forest envisioned in the
original development plan. The most recent commitment can be found the
2006 Greenbelt Stewardship Plan which offers the following initial
Environmental concerns have resulted in a number of projects and
activities to assure the goal of keeping a conservation forest.
For example, in 2001
coordinated effort to provide for the annual Chinook Salmon and
Steelhead Trout spawning season was approved. The Brooktrails Township
as lead agency working jointly with the State Water Resources Control
Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, with support from the
University of California at Davis, completed a $180,912 project to
restore portions of 5,765 foot section of Willits Creek by installing
gravel beds, six vortex weirs, significant bank stabilizing, and
riparian vegetation beginning at the former Summer Lake Dam and
extending to the Lake Emily spillway.
- To protect and promote the ecosystem integrity and
sustainability of the 2,500- acre Greenbelt.
- To maintain the resilience of the system to adapt to short-term
stresses and long-term change.
- To develop a mosaic of native redwood, conifer and hardwood
forest, consisting of a mix of types and ages that promotes a
diverse natural forest.
- It is to be a preserve, with restoration and minimal
The Township continues to maintain the habitat and manages the discharge of water from Lake
Emily to maximize the Creek conditions during the spawning season. This
improves Pacific marine fisheries as well as maintaining a balanced ecosystem
within the Creek which is an essential element of Brooktrails Redwood
Perceived "Problems" with Brooktrails
Within the various interest groups concerned about Brooktrails are misunderstandings, some of
which have become conventional wisdom.
One of those misunderstandings is
that there is a building moratorium within Brooktrails. That is not
true today nor in the foreseeable future.
But more insidious misrepresentations of the truth are more
frequently heard in a kind of cycle related to the economy. Among many “oldtimers” who are not Brooktrails residents or
property owners, some disdain is expressed using terms like “real estate scam.” Two facts when
considered in isolation have led to a false sense of validation of this type of criticism over the years.
The “Problem” with Brooktrails - Part 1
First there was the development itself. With the approval of the
Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, the Brooktrails Company Ltd. did subdivide the land into
6,000+ parcels. It is important to note that by 1972 they had sold almost all the parcels. The
target market was the American middle class homeowner. In Brooktrails a second home, a
vacation home, seemed available to the many instead of the wealthy few. It was a feasible goal
with affordable lots and mortgage rates hovering around 7.5%.
Unfortunately in 1973 mortgage rates started climbing, hitting 18% in 1981. It was part
of an overall severe 1973–75 recession and included the 1979 energy crisis. The best way to
understand the situation for Brooktrails in the late 1970's is to think of collapse of the housing market in 2008.
Many people “walked away” from their Brooktrails lots in the late
1970's. They quit paying their property taxes
and assessments. The most significant impact of this was on assessment bonds issued by the
County of Mendocino that funded roads and other improvements.
Was this actually the result of a “real estate scam” as some would say? For those Brooktrails
residents who live in homes built during that early period as this writer has
for over 25 years, our answer is “obviously not.” For a
person who walked away from a lot, calling it a “scam” helped to rationalize a set of personal
events that began with their buying the lot and ended up with a financial loss.
If you own one of the lots today, the current extremely low mortgage
interest rates actually would permit one to own a second home at a relatively low cost. But that
doesn’t mean you should start construction tomorrow.
One thing seems fairly certain - the developer of Brooktrails had a vision for middle class
Americans. That vision is not different from the recently promoted “ownership society” model
that collapsed with the economy in 2008.
This is a constantly repeating cycle in our economy. Brooktrails was, and may be, more
vulnerable to economic downturns than most communities. But that is a problem to solve. It isn’t
because the hyleopolis vision was a scam.
The “Problem” with Brooktrails - Part 2
Faced with a potential default on bonds issued by the County for Brooktrails development, a few
in Brooktrails working through the District in the late 1970's sought someone to market the tax defaulted lots. The
local real estate offices failed to step up. But the idea appealed to the
which through an effective marketing program sold the lots, financing the purchase and paying
off the tax and assessment defaults. And those lot sales resulted in increased tax revenue due to
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that in 2008, along with the rest of the nation, Brooktrails
lots lost value and again owners walked away from them usually because of more
pressing personal financial problems. Because of a tax revenue financing scheme
known as the Teeter Plan instituted in the late 1990 by the Legislature and adopted by the
County of Mendocino, there is again a debt problem for the County due to unpaid taxes and
assessments in Brooktrails.
This time around, some have called Brooktrails "a failed subdivision” because of the Deerwood sales program
that bailed the County out from the 1970's economic crash. That
criticism does not come from people who enjoy living in the
Brooktrails homes built on those lots in the 1980's and 1990's. And despite assertions to the
contrary, many of us are paying taxes based upon an assessed value established when those lots
were sold in the 1990's.
One thing seems fairly certain - the people at the Deerwood Corporation embraced the vision of
the original Brooktrails developer, a vision for middle class Americans. That vision is the
“ownership society” model that collapsed with the economy in 2008. But the Deerwood
Corporation financed many of those lots and, like the County and the District, is still invested in
Brooktrails continuing success as the economy begins its recovery.
There is no “Problem” with The Essence of Brooktrails
It is simply not true that Brooktrails lots are worthless. The American economy is very slowly
recovering from a housing market crash in 2008. Real estate sales are down but
lots have been sold in 2012-13. The next person
who builds a home to live in Brooktrails will enjoy The Essence of Brooktrails, described in a
1969 United Press International article as follows:
Today the community cannot be called a “resort” community, though some homes are occupied
part time. Most of the 1,500+ homes in Brooktrails are occupied by permanent residents, about
3,311 of them. It is a community of people sharing the common experience of living with and
within a conservation forest known as Brooktrails Redwood Park.
The only known hyleopolis in the United States is located in the mountains of
northern California's Mendocino county. It is called Brooktrails and it combines a
resort community with a conservation forest, mainly the revered and stately
Yes, individual residents and property owners have problems, financial and otherwise. Yes, the
Brooktrails Township government and the County of Mendocino government have problems
with finances and complex policy. But Americans and their local governments have problems.
It is no different here.
That in no way means The Essence of Brooktrails is lost to the community’s 3,311 residents,
their neighbors, and visitors. In March 19, 2013 the Willits News reported:
Twenty third- and fourth-graders from Willits Elementary Charter descended on
Ohl Grove in Brooktrails looking for the elusive redwood trees. Luckily there were
a few there waiting to be found.
Many who live here know that “Ohl Grove in Brooktrails” is named for John Ohl, owner of
Brooktrails Company Ltd., who died in 1994. His vision of a conservation forest is not dead to local school children
and others who live in or visit Brooktrails Township.
Students created a web of all the different animals and plants of the ecosystem,
and saw how everything is interconnected....
Today the Brooktrails Township strives to protect and conserve the
interests of the owners of lots and larger rural parcels and of its
residents by providing the following services:
The links at the top of this page will lead you to more
information about the Brooktrails Township.
- fire prevention and suppression along with emergency medical
- water collection, treatment, and distribution;
- wastewater collection and disposal;
- solid waste collection and disposal;
- community planning and construction design review; and
- Brooktrails Redwood Park active use facilities including the
Brooktrails Golf Course, the Par Course, a baseball field, a
playground, and a Community Center building, along with the
2,500+ acres of passive use lands crossed by miles of hiking
trails and home to Lake Emily and Lake Ada Rose.