Conversation With Ben Miles, Shasta Land Trust Director: … About Saturday’s Wildways Kickoff Party

Today I talk with Ben Miles, Shasta Land Trust’s executive director, about Saturday’s Wildways event in Redding.

 Miles has been the SLT’s director since 2008. He holds a Master of Science degree in Environmental Science from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He grew up on a small farm in central Kentucky, and earned a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He and his wife live in Redding. His interests include almost anything that takes him outside, including hiking, camping, kayaking, skiing, running and backpacking.


Q: Ben, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today I know you’re busy preparing for Saturday’s Wildways party, so we can make this quick. Well, first, can you describe what the Wildways party concept is? Sounds wild.

Hello Doni, and thank you for ‘sitting down’ with me to talk about Wildways.

Shasta Land Trust hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from hikes and bike rides to cooking demonstrations and explorations of local history.

We call the entire series of events “Wildways.” Each year in February, we get the whole series started with our Wildways Kickoff Party, which is the first event of the year and everyone’s first opportunity to get tickets to those other Wildways events later in the year.

This year’s Kickoff will be at the Senior Citizens Hall in Redding, next to the north end of the Diestelhorst bridge. Doors open at 6 p.m. The theme of this year’s Kickoff is “Picnic on the Ranch” and we’ll have Prather Ranch sliders and a great lineup of trimmings, all served buffet style by our food committee (led by Tammy Douse).

There is also a no-host bar. It is important to note that Shasta Land Trust’s entire Wildways program is completely volunteer-driven and community-supported. Each Wildways event is hosted by volunteers and is put on at no cost to Shasta Land Trust, so if you purchase a ticket to an event, you know that all of those dollars are going right back into conserving open spaces and important resources in our area.

Also, for our Kickoff, all of the items in our raffles or silent auction are also donated, so the purchase price for those items also goes directly to support our mission of local conservation.

Finally, we also have a great list of local business and individuals that provide generous sponsorships of Wildways so ALL of the proceeds we receive on the night of the Kickoff go to support local conservation!

Q: So, the idea is that there are all these events offered, and guests basically try to be first in line so they can pay to attend the parties or outings that they are most interested in attending. (And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve donated a fall pasta-making class.) But there’s more going on than people lining up to pay for parties. What else can guests expect?

Yes, the Kickoff is the first opportunity for anyone to purchase tickets to the 22 Wildways events we offer in 2012, and some of those events will sell out at the Kickoff.

Some of our Wildways events are quite large (up to 150 guests), but some are more intimate settings and those typically sell out at the Kickoff. As you mention, you’re hosting an event this fall, as you’ve done many times for us in past years, and your cooking demo is usually one of those that sells out at the Kickoff.

The guest’s ‘place in line’ for the Wildways ticket sales is determined by when they buy a ticket to the Kickoff, so we have a lot of supporters who get their tickets to the Kickoff early so they have a shot at cool events like yours, Doni.

Well, shucks, I didn’t intend for this to be about my event, but thanks for the compliment. So, moving along, what other events are offered?

But, yes, there are a lot of other things going on at the Kickoff. It’s – by far – Shasta Land Trust’s biggest fundraiser of the year, and a very exciting gathering of our local supporters.

We have raffles that give you the chance to win a variety of interesting gift baskets, and there is a silent auction that features donated items from across our community.

This year’s silent auction has been organized by SLT Board member Dave Bush, and he’s done a great job soliciting a great variety of donations, including paintings, photography, sculptures, a weekend at an Ashland B&B, a box of fishing flies, a beautiful table made from birdseye pine, and a cord of firewood (to name a few). There’s sure to be something there for everybody!

We also have live music at the Kickoff and this year’s Kickoff tunes will be provided by the local group the Prima Donna Bongo Band. As I said, it’s a really great atmosphere and a very fun group of people assembled in the room. Many people tell me that the gathering, the personalities, and the sense of community is worth the price of admission!

Q: You’re a great salesman, Ben. Remind me, how long has the SLT been hosting this Wildways party?

Shasta Land Trust’s first Wildways event was held in 2003, and we developed the series over the next couple of years, adding parties each year. The name Wildways was come up by long-time SLT volunteer Cheri Anderson in one of our committees several years ago.

The Kickoff Party was first held about 2005, and we’ve held it annually ever since. The Kickoff has grown a little each year and we’re going to fill up the room this weekend with over 200 people!

Q: Aside, from the food, entertainment and fund-raising, what other purpose does the Wildways party serve?

Shasta Land Trust’s mission is “Conserving the beauty, character and diversity of significant lands in far northern California” and all of the proceeds from ALL of our Wildways events go to support us in that mission.

Much of our project work focuses on acquiring important properties or conservation easements that offers benefits to our local community, but we also see it as our mission to help connect our local community members to the diverse and beautiful landscapes that surround us.

Our Wildways events give people opportunities to learn more about our area, and they also serve to introduce Shasta Land Trust to community residents. In addition to being important fundraisers for SLT, Wildways events are important “friendraisers” that help us get our word out and increase our membership.

Q:  Wildways Kickoff Party is Saturday. So many questions, like how fancy is it, meaning, how shall guests dress? Also, are tickets still available, and where can people buy them?

Tickets are still available, and are $25 if you purchase them today (Thursday) or tomorrow before 3 p.m. You can do that by calling our office a 241-7886. Or you can go to our website at, or stop by our office at 1918 West Street in Redding.

We stop selling tickets tomorrow afternoon, but we’ll also sell tickets at the door on Saturday. Tickets at the door cost $30, so get them today or tomorrow to save a few bucks.

The event will be this Saturday at the Senior Citizens Hall, which is off Benton Drive, right next to the river trail.

I’m sure my wife will tell me I mischaracterize the dress, but I’d say it’s a casual event. I certainly wouldn’t consider it formal, but I guess it’s nice party attire … but not cocktail attire.

I guess it’s obvious to you that you asked the wrong person this question, but feel free to add details, Doni, as you’ve been to most of these Kickoffs.

Q: You did just fine. I suppose it’s like most Redding events – people show up wearing a wide range of whatever works with their comfort zone, from Levi’s to suits, and everyone fits in just fine. 

Well, now that we’ve gotten the vexing fashion topic out of the way, we should probably address the most obvious question. Can you describe for newcomers, what is the Shasta Land Trust, exactly?

Shasta Land Trust is a local non-profit conservation organization, founded in Redding in 1998. We are a locally-led and locally-interested 501(c)3 that is supported by the local community.

Our focus is on conserving the important resources and properties that make our area such a distinctive and appealing place to live (but we also throw good parties). We are led by a nine member all-volunteer Board of Directors. Our staff is very small, but we are successful in our mission because of the extensive contributions of our many volunteers.

We have around a dozen volunteer committees that guide everything from our land project work to our fundraising and our outreach. Each year, we have over a hundred active volunteers contributing to our work.

Q: Can you give an overview of the SLT’s proudest accomplishments since its inception?

Because of our great volunteer leadership over the years, Shasta Land Trust has achieved many important successes for our community. We have conserved over 20,000 acres of working ranchland, diverse wildlife habitat, and open spaces right here in Shasta County. Each of the projects that we have completed has been done by working with willing landowners, which in our case means that the landowners sought us out and wanted to work with us to conserve their property.

Shasta Land Trust has also always taken our organizational integrity and operating standards very seriously, and we’ve strived to be a leader in our field in this regard. One year ago, SLT was awarded accredited status from the land trust accreditation commission. We were one of the first 8 percent of land trusts nationwide to achieve this distinction, which recognizes our commitment to permanent conservation.

As a nationally accredited land trust with more than 20,000 acres conserved, SLT has demonstrated that we are an effective local force for conservation that will be around for many years to come.

Q: That’s quite an accomplishment. Anything else you’d like readers to know?

If you’ve got other plans this weekend but would still like to dip your toe into our Wildways pool, you can come to one of the other events we offer throughout the year.

You can see the full list of our 2012 Wildways series on our website. It’s a diverse list of events, all hosted by your neighbors, and there’s sure to be something there that interests you! Wildways is all about having a good time while supporting local conservation; it’s a win-win!

Q: Thanks so much, Ben. I’ll let you return to your last-minute Wildways details.

Thanks Doni. I’ll see you Saturday!

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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