What a Long Strange Trip

Welcome to the third installment of interviews with the key players of the local green scene.  The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy has been a pioneer in the last two decades in its mission to preserve, enhance and restore local habitats.  For 2 years now the main man behind the scenes has been Brian Stark, a man of myriad tastes, talents and tales.

1.  What is your position with OVLC.  What does your average day entail?

They call me the Conservation Operations Director, but maybe that is not as descriptive as it could be. My chief duties are to manage all the ecological aspects of the OVLC preserves, including the habitat restoration projects and the preparation of preserve management plans. So, while Rick handles most of the visitor interface and infrastructure-related aspects of the preserves, my work is a bit more behind the scenes. My other responsibilities include strategic planning, budgeting, and budget management for the organization. That frees up Greg for the conservation transactions which can be quite time consuming.
2.  Tell us about the main projects in the works for OVLC currently

The Ojai Meadows Preserve and the Ventura River Preserve are the big ones for me. I like the big projects where we have a chance to do a diversity of habitats in one location. These seem to be the most popular with wildlife and our human visitors. For land conservation we are making positive contacts with landowners along the Ventura River in hopes of connecting some of our existing preserves.
3.  I know it’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child… but what is your favorite spot on the OVLC properties?

Don’t tell the other Preserves, but I have become partial to the new Steelhead Preserve. The River down there is something special and it actually has steelhead. I am a fish-head at heart and tend to gravitate toward fish.
4.  Grateful Dead time… how many shows, what’s the furthest you traveled for a show?

You had to go “there”. My best guess is in the neighborhood of 100 shows. Most were in California/Nevada, we never had to travel far in California since they played almost 20 shows a year here.
5.  Favorite GD song to hear live?  Favorite live experience?

So many to choose from, but ya can’t go wrong with Don’t Ease Me In. (dough knees, dough knees….)  Probably having Carlos Santana sit in with the boys back in ’87 in Calaveras County, that was a crazy tour.
6.  Favorite native shrub?

OK, I won’t say coyote brush, I really like elderberry. It is part shrub part tree, a versatile plant that is both attractive and versatile in supporting nature. It makes food too!
7.  Most despised non native plants?

Arundo would be too cliché, so I’ll go with Cape Ivy. In a way, it is more insidious and sneaks up on its victims. Any plant that mummifies others has a special creepiness.
8.  Honorary non-native that’s not so bad?

I’ll go with Chicory. I’ve never bothered to fight it since it doesn’t seem too invasive. It makes a pretty flower that I can live with.


9.  What do you miss about San Luis Obispo? What do you like better about Ojai vs SLO?

I miss seeing the ocean from my house and being able to launch the kayak in Morro Bay within 15 min. I also miss hikes up Black’s Hill in Morro Bay for the sunsets.  What I like best about the Ojai Valley is how self sufficient the area is. We are a bit isolated up here in the valley and everyone seems to have figured out a way to be part of the community in one way or another. There is a unique mix of rugged individualism and nurturing arts. No matter what you need, there is someone in the Valley ready to help out. Maybe if you need brain surgery you head down the hill…but maybe not.
10.  Native plant that you miss from SLO? Local Ojai native plant that you wish you had back in the SLO days?

Some of my favorite restoration plants from SLO haven’t been all that successful here. Coffeeberry and elderberry are favorites of mine. At least these do pretty well at the Confluence Preserve.  I’m liking the local snowberry species found here (S.mollis). It is so much more versatile here in Ojai…a plant I’m really getting to like.
11.  You work in Ojai but don’t live here… favorite lunch spots?

I rarely get out for lunch here in Ojai, but I went to Hip Vegan Café a while back and liked that place…even though I am not vegan myself. Can’t go wrong with Jim & Rob’s.
12.  How do you keep donations up in a rough economic period?

We still go all out on achieving success in land conservation despite the economy, and that’s kept local donors engaged. We don’t let the economy come between us and a healthy community, so we just work harder.
13.  What are the biggest challenges facing OVLC now and in the near future?

Our biggest challenge is establishing a community identity that is differentiated from national conservation groups. We want people to know that we are entirely local, and entirely focused on protecting the Ojai Valley.
14.  Tell us about dowsing and how you became involved in it.  Ever look for anything besides water?

I learned dowsing from a witch-doctor in Cambria. Starting as a skeptic, I found it interesting how easy it is to be successful. Besides finding water and underground utilities, I’ve used them for testing feng shui. In 2003 I picked the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals using dowsing rods. Got 14 straight games right. Somehow they know if you bet on games though, they never work when money is on the line. Divining rods don’t do greed.
15.  What local organizations are important to OVLC and to you personally?

For me, I have always been a big supporter of the California Conservation Corps. Those kids work hard and know the value of a day’s work, and the CCC helps prepare young people for careers in land management and firefighting. They also do a lot of work behind the scenes to make our communities safer. Since I’ve been in Ojai, I have also worked with the CREW and the good people from the Once Upon a Watershed program. Both are doing great work in getting young people fired up about environmental improvement.
16.  Favorite spots to visit in California outside of Ventura county?

Hands down…Yosemite. There is not a grander place on Earth. The whole place is like a spiritual battery charger.

17.  You’re a guitar player, who would you love to jam with?

Lots to choose from here, but I’ve always identified with the work of Neil Young. Sometimes I like to get folky, but sometimes I like to tear it up. I guess I’m a little bit country, and a little bit rock n roll.
18.  So whats with your love affair with coyote brush, seems like a pretty boring plant to me:

How could you say that? Coyote brush is the Kurt Cobain of native plants. Sure, a little bit grunge, but a star that burns bright despite its short life. You’ll never hear an oak tree say “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”. It is a survivor in a disturbed world and ultimately sacrifices itself so a future generation of later successional species can survive.
19.  You were a bit of a TV celebrity as a youngster, tell us about it, any YouTube clips still exist?

Yes, my career started as a commercial actor at the tender age of 11. After pitching both Alhambra and Sparklett’s water, seems like I got type cast as a water pitch-boy and it was hard to branch out into the hot subjects of breakfast cereal and junk food. Better to quit than end up hanging out with Danny Bonaducci.

20.  Someone donates 10 million to OVLC to be used immediately.  Have any dream properties or projects?

Ultimately, we’ll do the most for the Ojai Valley with a series of smaller projects than one big one. We are still focused on the Ventura River floodplain and some of the scenic lands that define the Valley.

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