Renovation underway at Walker Creek Ranch


Walker Creek Ranch, the outdoor education facility owned by the Marin County Office of Education, is in the process of renovating one of its 11 cabins for use by resident naturalists and the education office’s facilities director. The fact that the director's position will be housed on the property for the long term is part of a shift in the county office’s model of supervision, according to officials. The ranch offers programs to children throughout the school year, balancing its budget by renting rooms for conferences and retreat groups when school isn’t in session. It typically houses around 16 employees in order to spare them the commute to the remote location and so they may provide “essential services.” The ranch’s dozen or so naturalists, who teach the school programs and have long bemoaned the state of their housing, will soon move into the renovated lodge, an $80,000 effort. Another $25,000 is being spent to create a private residence within the lodge for the newly appointed facilities director, George Stratman, formerly a ranch manager at Walker Creek. Funds for the work are coming from Walker Creek Enterprise Fund, public money collected by the ranch in conference periods to cover school-year costs. The education office’s superintendent of rural schools, Luke McCann, said the renovation will result in a “net neutral on lodging.” But one employee who only spoke anonymously expressed concern that the use of the renovated lodge by employees rather than guests will damage relationships with customers, as it’s the only lodge with both meeting rooms and guest rooms. “A huge amount of public labor and materials has gone into building a new free housing unit for someone,” the employee said. Several employees confirmed that the net loss of guest rooms resulting from the renovation and the relocation of naturalists could total up to $580 per day during peak conference periods. In the 25-year tenure of the ranch, directors, who earn $140,000 annually, have never lived on campus in the long term. Mr. Stratman will commute nearly an hour each way to his San Rafael office, from which he oversees management of operations and facilities at all of the education office’s sites.