Residents might be excused for taking community for granted in the San Lorenzo Valley or Scotts Valley, where it sometimes seems impossible to go anywhere in town without running into someone you know.
But what if there were no “town” to go to?
The residents of Bonny Doon have no grocery stores, no community centers, no dog parks, no public pools and no gas stations, even, to allow for regular interaction with neighbors.
Emily York and others have reported that — outside of the elementary school, the occasional pancake breakfast at the fire station and the annual Art & Wine Festival — they’ve gone months without seeing their neighbors.
“I was here a whole year and was like, ‘Where is everybody?’” said York, who moved to Bonny Doon with her husband in 2009.
For many residents, one of the only ties to the community has been the venerable Battle Mountain News, a monthly newsletter published and mailed for more than three decades by Morgan Rankin.
According to Rankin, the Battle Mountain News began in 1976 as part of the Bonny Doon Community Services Group, alongside a directory of local skills and services, as a means of allowing people to connect with each other.
“Bonny Doon was changing back then,” she said. “People were asking ‘How do we reach each other?’”
Even with those publications in place, Rankin said, with no central community hub it was difficult for Bonny Doon residents, particularly new residents, to connect.
Recently, though, residents have created two new community centers — one physical, one virtual — to combat that disconnect.
‘Every week, I’ll meet someone new’
Since August 2010, Bonny Doon Church on Pine Flat Road has opened its remodeled Kirk House, adjacent to the church, each week as a by-donation coffeehouse for the community.
Sue Murphy is a member of the coffeehouse’s all-volunteer staff.
“It’s kind of an outreach,” she said. “We thought we could use this place as a gathering place for the community.”
Volunteers redecorated the building, normally used for Sunday school and other church functions, giving it a comfortable living room feel and adding a free Wi-Fi network.
“We spruced it up a little, and it’s grown,” Murphy said. “This way, there’s a regular place people can come.”
Every Thursday, between 8 a.m. and noon, Higher Grounds becomes a hub of sorts, with local residents meeting each other and sharing news and gossip.
“It has been wonderful,” Rankin said. “I was so pleased that the people at the church recognized that the church could be a reason for people to get together.”
The coffeehouse’s hours coincide with when food donations for seniors are dropped off by the Grey Bears food distribution program, drawing even more community members.
“There’s a lot of networking that goes on here,” said Susan Mason, a local resident. “Every week, I’ll meet someone new.”
For Sigrid Oseberg, who moved to the Bonny Doon area after her children were out of school, the coffee shop proved an ideal place to meet her neighbors.
“Once I started coming, it was like, ‘Why didn’t I come sooner?’” Oseberg said. “When we came here, unless you had kids in school, you didn’t have that same connection.”
“There’s really not a good opportunity to get a sense of community,” Rankin said. “The Higher Grounds has really filled that gap.”
‘We can even ask for a cup of milk if we need to’
York grew up in the San Lorenzo Valley and had heard for years, she said, about the great sense of community in Bonny Doon. When she moved to the area in 2009, though, she couldn’t seem to find it.
So the following year, she took her background in social media and created an online community gathering place for Bonny Doon on Facebook.
Since 2010, “Bonny Doon ~ a little slice of Heaven” — now known as “The Slice” — has gained nearly 650 followers and grown into a forum for residents to interact with their neighbors about all manner of topics.
“I just wanted a place where people could connect a little quicker,” York said. “We can have an open discussion; we can advertise events; we can even ask for a cup of milk if we need to.”
Through the Facebook page, Bonny Doon residents have found homes for stray animals, organized events, warned each other about criminal activity and dangerous drivers, and even organized to spur county officials about road conditions.
“For me, this has been crucial networking,” Oseberg said. “When you have a community that doesn’t have a physical hub, we’ve developed a virtual one.”
According to Mason, the 650 members of The Slice serve as information conduits to the rest of the community.
“It’s mostly word of mouth,” she said, explaining that many residents do not have Facebook accounts, but still hear the news from relatives who do.
Steve Homan, a 36-year resident, said that he was impressed by how widespread The Slice had become.
“In the last six months or so, it’s gone viral,” he said. “What Emily York started was the best thing that’s happened to Bonny Doon since the Battle Mountain News started three decades ago.”
Higher Grounds coffeehouse, 426-6858, or www.facebook.com/highergroundscoffeehouse/info
Bonny Doon ~ a little slice of Heaven: www.facebook.com/groups/339155380037/