In the 1850s, Regina Hirsch’s great-grandparents made their way to Groveland, California, and homesteaded. Originally from Italy, their goal was to create a community filled with family and friends, the kind of place that was good for raising children.
One hundred and fifty years later, Regina followed in her great-grandparents footsteps, circling back from a lifetime spent elsewhere to settle in the same little town.
At the time, it was a gutsy move.
Trained biologists, Robb and Regina Hirsch had jobs they loved—Robb worked for USGS in Joshua Tree National Park, Regina for the Morro Bay National Estuary Program.
It would have been easy for them to find work together. But they had a dream: They wanted to be in a place firmly grounded in community, the kind of town where neighbor stops to help neighbor and kindness is the local currency.
What they didn’t expect (and still take no credit for) is that they would become the glue that holds this tiny town together, making it not just a drive-through on the way to Yosemite National Park, but a travel destination of its own.
That this has happened still strikes them with wonder. As Robb says with a laugh, “We’re biologists. We know nothing at all about business.”
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But that hasn’t stopped them. Settling in Groveland in 2002, the pair immediately bought the nursery that was for sale on Groveland’s main street. Interestingly enough (or pure kismet), it was housed in and around the very home Regina’s great-grandparents had lived in and where her grandfather was born.
Turning their Mountain Sage Nursery into a series of outdoor rooms, Regina discovered a talent for landscaping and travelers and locals discovered a great place to go and hang out. Suddenly people were coming with picnic lunches, making their way into the gardens and spending the afternoon. So Robb and Regina opened a coffee house (since sold to friends), then invited patrons to take their coffee into the gardens and enjoy.
Next came the weekend concerts. Robb loves music and Groveland is too far away from the big cities to get to many; so, with a “build it and they will come” mentality, he and a group of volunteers erected a stage, then terraced a hillside in the nursery for seating.
Now for nine weeks every summer, families come and dance to the music. The best news for Robb? “Bands love the venue so much they are seeking us out, so we’re able to get big-name groups to come and play even though we’re off the beaten track.”
Committed environmentalists, they’ve turned the first weekend in June into Earthfest, a community event filled with great music, speakers and food, all taking place on the grounds of—you got it—Mountain Sage. Last time they looked, 500 people showed up and every year it gets bigger.
Farmers market? They started it—again at the nursery where it’s held every Saturday from Memorial Day through October.
And then there’s the photography. Robb originally started taking nature photographs when he was working at Joshua Tree, but they were strictly for work. Once they moved near Yosemite, he began taking pictures in earnest.
To check out Robb’s photos, visit www.robbhirschphoto.com
Following his bliss (as he and Regina seemed to have done every step of the way), he catapulted to fame when he won the prestigious Nature’s Best International Photography Competition in 2007 and is now shown in galleries throughout the West. His greatest love (outside of Regina and their 3-year-old Noah) is taking small groups of people on photo safaris to his favorite places in and around Yosemite Park.
To speak with Robb and Regina is to talk with two people filled with enthusiasm, good will, humility and a “pinch me, I can’t believe this has all happened” can-do spirit. But if Regina’s great-grandparents were able to put down roots so strong they called her home again, it would seem that anything is possible. In the case of Robb and Regina Hirsch, it seems that destiny and destination are one—and the community they envisioned for their family and friends has grown to include thousands.
By Jamie Simons for PeterGreenberg.com.
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