The Other Trump

Building on the legacy of its founder, a small land trust looks to do big things



Maybe you like to picnic at Moonstone Beach or surf Houda Point. Or perhaps a solitary walk along Luffenholtz Beach is more your thing, or tide pooling at nearby Baker Beach. Whatever your preference, if you're one of the many who consider the rugged coastline from Little River to Big Lagoon to be one of Humboldt County's crown jewels, then you owe a debt of a gratitude to a man named Trump. No, not that Trump.

Marvin Leroy Trump, who died in December at the age of 94, was a founding member of the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, a small nonprofit that, for almost four decades now, has worked to maintain and preserve public access to some of the county's most popular coastal properties. The land trust, which counts Trump's son and daughter-in-law among its board members, is now looking to honor Trump and lay the foundation for an ambitious expansion with a fundraiser next month that will recreate a Westhaven art show from almost 15 years ago.

The Man

Born May 23, 1922, in San Diego, Marvin Trump came to Humboldt County in his early 30s, after flying bombers with the Army Air Corps and getting a masters in architecture from the University of California Berkeley. His life's work is visible throughout the county, as he designed a host of community fixtures, from Arcata City Hall and the California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport terminal to Sacred Heart Church and the Lutheran Church of Arcata.

But Trump's most lasting local legacy is probably the land trust, which was largely born out of a property rights dispute decades ago. Back in the late 1970s, California State Parks was looking to turn the stretch of coast from Moonstone Beach to Trinidad into a state park, which would have necessitated buying up all the privately owned properties along Scenic Drive. This left the area's homeowners — including Trump who'd purchased a home overlooking Camel Rock with his wife, Kirsten, in 1963 — desperately seeking alternatives.

"We just got together as a group of landowners from Moonstone to Trinidad to put our heads together," Kristen Trump recalls, adding that Marvin took on the task of putting together a booklet detailing all the properties and their ownership that they could use to educate state officials and legislators. Then, one day, Kristen Trump says they heard a piece on Jefferson Public Radio about land trusts and the concept intrigued them.

In 1978, the Trumps and five other area property owners formed what was then called the Humboldt North Coast Land Trust, having convinced the state to give them the bulk of the funds that would have gone toward creating the new park. The land trust took the funds and purchased properties and easements, which it has maintained and preserved in the ensuing decades.

"They didn't want to lose their homes, so they did what they could and actually ended up developing this organization that now preserves free coastal access for all these people," says Tami Trump, Marvin and Kirsten's daughter-in-law who now sits on the trust's board of directors and can often be found picking up trash or cutting back the grass at one of the trust's properties.

The Show

After his retirement in 1992, Marvin Trump took up oil painting and — not one to do things halfway — poured himself into the new hobby. Though painting was a new pursuit, Kirsten Trump says her husband was always artistic. "When he traveled, he never took a camera — he took his sketchbook," she says.

With a small home studio that overlooked Camel Rock, Trump became somewhat obsessed with painting the local landmark, going so far as to work its image into totally unrelated paintings. He painted prolifically and took a series of classes from local painter Michael Hayes to help master his new craft.

One day, Kirsten Trump says, her husband found himself wondering how the masters — Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse and the like — would have painted his favorite subject, and thus the Camel Rock According To series was born. Marvin Trump ended up producing 20 paintings for the series, each one painted through the lens of a painting icon, and showed them at Westhaven Center for the Arts in 2003. Almost all of them sold.

After his death in December, Tami Trump says some of land trust members were brainstorming a way to honor Marvin Trump and raise needed funds for the trust and came up with the idea of trying to recreate the show, which meant trying to track down 18 paintings that had sold almost 15 years ago (the other two were later painted over by Marvin Trump).

With the help of Janet Groth, a Humboldt State University student who was interning with the land trust, a sort of art scavenger hunt began. "He kept pretty good records but they were all handwritten and some had question marks next to them," Tami Trump recalls of sifting through paperwork trying to find sales records. "It was a lot of detective work, honestly."

Ultimately, they were able to find 16 of the paintings, which were hanging throughout the state and as far off as Michigan. All the owners agreed to loan the paintings to the land trust for a memorial show, opening with a reception on May 5 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the land trust's Simmons Gallery, that runs through July.

The show will double as a fundraiser for the land trust, with prints and post cards for sale as well as a raffle, wine donations, local food and more. The proceeds will go toward funding some upgrades at Houda Point — a new picnic table, trailhead kiosk, portable bathroom and donation box — as well as ongoing maintenance and stewardship.

Small Land Trust, Big Plans

Until last year, the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust didn't have a paid employee.

"We were literally a group of volunteers trying to keep this thing going," says Tami Trump, noting that included fundraising and grant writing, in addition to maintaining and cleaning up the trust's 20 properties.

In 2016, the trust hired Ben Morehead as its part-time executive director, and now has its sights set on some large projects that could forever change recreation on the North Coast. Sitting in the land trust's office up in Trinidad, Morehead says he's working on developing a land stewardship fund through the Humboldt Area Foundation with the goal of raising $1 million that will serve as a savings account the trust can use to pay for decades of maintenance and upkeep of its properties. But if that sounds ambitious, wait until you hear the rest of Morehead's plans.

He says he's working on a plan to acquire Strawberry Rock — the popular spot on Green Diamond property on the east side of U.S. Highway 101 near Trinidad — along with a 24-acre redwood grove. The trust has a contract with Green Diamond that gives it three years to come up with the approximately $1 million needed for the purchase, which would bring about 40 acres of land under the trust's stewardship and grant permanent public access and protection to the site.

Then there's the Little River extension of the California Coastal Trail — a proposed addition that would connect McKinleyville's Hammond Trail with Scenic Drive and include a bridge crossing Little River. The land trust already owns the parcel to the north of the river, while State Parks owns the parcel to the south, and Morehead says he's seeking a roughly $1 million grant with a variety of partners that would fund the engineering and permitting of the trail.

Finally, Morehead says he's working on bringing all of the Luffenholtz Beach property under the trust's ownership. While the trust currently owns the northern part of the property, the rest is owned by the state and managed by the county of Humboldt. "At this point, the land trust is helping steward and look after the property because neither the county nor the state has the funding nor the desire to maintain it," Morehead says, adding that the trust hopes to take over ownership but won't take on the accompanying liability until it can get an infrastructure grant to pay for new trails, stairs down to the beach and a restroom.

"That's going to be a long-term cost to look after and maintain that property," Morehead says. In the meantime, Morehead says the trust is launching some programs to increase public involvement with it and its properties, and a general awareness of what the trust is and does.

So, after the music turns off and the lights go out at the gallery on May 5, trust board members and volunteers will show up at its trail near Little River on May 6 to pull English Ivy. The following day, they'll lead a seaweed identification naturalist training walk on Baker Beach.

At her home, with its view of Camel Rock, Kirsten Trump says she loves seeing the impact that youthful energy has had on the once sleepy land trust she and her husband helped create almost 40 years ago.

"I think it's been very heartwarming because it sat for a long time without much being done," she says. "Now, with all these young people coming in from all walks of life, it's really doing what a land trust should be doing."

Thadeus Greenson is the news editor at the Journal. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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