After 20 years, Elfin Forest is in pretty good shape

The Morro Bay Sun Bulletin headline March 2, 1994, read, “Save the Elfin Forest by April 1 — No Joke.” Members of the Small Wilderness Area Preservation faced losing $1,350,000 in promised grant funding if they couldn’t raise the balance of $125,000.

At a recent 20-year celebration gathering, SWAP Chairman Ron Rasmussen reported support for the El Moro Elfin Forest, www.elfin-forest.org, is stable and its agreement with San Luis Obispo County supervisors to maintain the public access area has been renewed. 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 was chairwoman of 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 chairwoman 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.”  

Children donated their allowances, she recalled. Teachers held classroom penny campaigns. Multimedia support included continuous updates and event notices by the Sun Bulletin, The Tribune and Bay News.

Public events were designed to create a memorable experience before SWAP members passed around a donation envelope. Dietz held a wine-tasting party where winemaker Ken Volk sampled his Rain Forest Red, 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.

“We used a travois (a Native American transport device) to carry the harpsichord to Woodrat Hall (later renamed Rose’s Grove),” Dietz recalled. “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 of the Elfin Forest mural created and painted by Barbara Rosenthal on the outside wall of Rexall Pharmacy and Gift Store in Los Osos.

“The hardest part,” Rosenthal said, “was finding all the donors who made it happen.”

SWAP wanted all who gave a dollar or a major gift to always be remembered for preserving the Elfin Forest.