A magical evening in an enchanted forest

Posted on September 29, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun


Jack London State Historic Park transformed into an enchanted forest on Sept. 24 as 320 guests attended the gala fundraising event, “Once Upon a Time in a Not-So-Distant Forest.”  The event raised more than $550,000 for the non-profit Jack London Park Partners which has funded and operated the park on behalf of the people of California since 2012. 

Grandmother Tree and young ferns (Above two photos:

Biodynamic winemaker and farmer Mike Benziger, chairman of the Jack London Park Partners Board of Directors, was honored for his commitment to the park’s outreach to youth. It was announced that the program will be named the Benziger Family Environmental Education Program. 

 “Mike has been very generous with his time, leadership, and resources.  He is especially committed to our environmental education programs,” said Executive Director Matt Leffert.

 “The reason Jack London Park is so critical to me and my family is not only its dramatic beauty and illustrious history, but because it’s a place to reach and educate the next generation of young people,” Benziger said. 

Mike Benziger and Noah Weiswasser (Zoart Photography)

Kids spend too much time in front of screens and too little time outdoors in nature, he said. “Jack London State Historic Park is counteracting this by bringing students to the park for fun, hands-on environmental education programs. We are capturing students’ imaginations and creating opportunities for them to follow their curiosity and reconnect with nature and themselves.  We are offering pathways to nature to develop the environmental stewards of tomorrow.”

Gala attendees were introduced to the park’s new wine partner, Eco Terreno Wines & Vineyards, which served Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon produced with biodynamic, organic, and regenerative farming methods.

The interactive event was developed by Gregangelo’s Velocity Entertainment. Beginning with a reception in the Eucalyptus Grove, attendees met original costume characters like “Skunk,” “Wolf,” “Owl,” and “Bee.”

Attendees included California State Senator Bill Dodd and Chief of Staff Ezrah Chabaan, Sonoma Mayor Jack Ding, Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin and Aide Hannah Whitman.

After a family-style meal by Elaine Bell, served in the Winery Ruins, “The Dance of the Four Seasons” and other pieces were performed by magical forest creatures and aerial faeries.  The park’s 2,000-year-old redwood, affectionately known as the Grandmother Tree, was brought to life to sing a lullaby and tell an ancient story.

Senator Bill Dodd, Michelle Heston, Brad Surosky and Maggie Simenthal (Photo:

Former Sonoma Alcalde Marcelo Defreitas, creative director of Gregangelo’s Velocity Entertainment, led the “fund a need” drive, resulting in donations from nearly all in attendance.

On stage, the dance piece The Moon Rises (Zoart Photography)

The evening was magical in many ways,” said Gala Chair Liz Fisher. “Most exciting was the atmosphere of love and support for the park and all it offers to the community. The generosity of our guests was impressive, especially in this unsettled economy.” 



One thought on “A magical evening in an enchanted forest

  1. This is a testament to the power of nature and the love of the community-we are so happy for the success of this event. Bravo, and thank you each on event and park staff and volunteers for your dedicated vision and support!

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