Swapping a weatherbeaten cabin for snug modern quarters

This story is part of NRS reserves transformed by Proposition 84 funds, a series describing the facilities improvements and expansions at NRS reserves supported by Proposition 84 bond funds.

Angelo Prop. 84
State bond funds paid to replace old, high maintenance building at Angelo Coast Range Reserve with two new apartments plus an eight-bed bunkhouse. Image: Peter Steel

By Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System

In California’s North Coast region, people have long been accustomed to making do. Trips to the store can be time consuming in this thinly populated section of the state, and purchases relatively costly. Instead, people repurpose whatever materials were at hand whenever possible.

The people who built Headquarters House at Angelo Coast Range Reserve 70-odd years ago certainly practiced the ethos of reuse. Long before the site was part of the UC Natural Reserve System, they cobbled the two-story structure together with materials scavenged from other buildings or cast off from nearby lumber mills.

The house acquired its grand name from its location near the reserve’s entrance and Science Center hub. But with uninsulated board walls and heat delivered by a wood stove, the building offered little more than basic shelter from the elements.

Angelo Prop. 84
Cobbled together with surplus lumber and scavenged materials, Headquarters House at Angelo Coast Range Reserve was neither comfortable nor weathertight. Image: Peter Steel

“Headquarters House was a poorly built structure from the get go. It was drafty, both to weather and critters, and almost impossible to keep mice and bats out,” says Peter Steel, manager of Angelo Coast Range Reserve. “The building was long on character and very short on amenities and comfort.”

Over the past 36 years, Steel made innumerable repairs to keep Headquarters House habitable for visiting students and researchers. Despite his best efforts, the house remained a perpetual thorn in his side.

“It was a big building that was hard to heat, utilize, and in need of constant maintenance,” Steel says.

So when Proposition 84 bond funds came available to refresh reserve infrastructure, Steel and his colleagues at UC Berkeley resolved to replace the old building with more flexible and functional accommodations.

UC Berkeley professor Mary Power, faculty director of Angelo, and colleagues amassed matching funds from multiple sources. Two National Science Foundation grants, private and foundation donations, in-kind staff time, and a gift of 160 acres to expand the reserve added up to $640,000. With an equivalent amount of state bond money from Proposition 84, the reserve had a $1.28 million budget for the project.

The funding covered the demolition of Headquarters House, and the construction of three new buildings providing accommodations for visitors. The two two-bedroom apartments each have a kitchen and bathroom, plus sliding glass doors that open onto a patio. The bunkhouse has sleeping quarters for eight. Cement fiber siding with metal roofs make the structures quite fire-resistant.

Angelo Prop. 84
The second apartment unit (right) plus the eight-bed bunkhouse (left). Image: Peter Steel

The new setup provides far more flexibility in terms of visitor accommodations. Now two smaller groups are able to stay near the reserve’s entrance rather than having to share Headquarters House. 

All three of the new buildings also draw power from the grid. That’s especially convenient given Mendocino County’s rainy winters. The solar arrays supplying Angelo’s other accommodations have trouble generating enough power on darker, shorter days.

Demolition of Headquarters House commenced in September of 2017. In true North Coast tradition, Steel spent the three days beforehand carrying off the best usable materials. Dedicated recycler that he is, Steel continually incorporates those materials into other buildings on the reserve.

Angelo Prop. 84
The new accommodations are located right across the road from the reserve’s Environmental Science Center. The Center houses a laboratory, classroom complex, small kitchen, and the reserve office. Image: Lobsang Wangdu/NRS

Construction went relatively smoothly, enabling the new buildings to open for use in October of 2018. The buildings came on line just in time to accommodate an upswing in users from the establishment of the Eel River Critical Zone Observatory, a National Science Foundation-funded project based at Angelo.

Visitors to the bunkhouse and apartments give the buildings rave reviews. “People like the newness, cleanliness, and ease of cleaning,” Steel says.

People housed near the reserve entrance also tread more softly on the land. That’s helpful to the reserve’s limited operating funds. “During the day people can carpool into the reserve and reduce wear and tear on the road, which is expensive in terms of time and materials to fix.”

The new buildings also conserve a considerable amount of Angelo staff time. “It’s certainly been easier for me to do the routine maintenance and cleanup chores following a group with the new buildings. And easier for the users too to do their part in that equation,” Steel says. In other words, both Steel and reserve users are getting more done now that they’re not merely making do.

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