CONCORD -- Arthur Bonwell didn't think Mount Diablo was getting the attention it deserved.
In 1971, Bonwell decided to speak out for the East Bay's tallest peak and helped form Save Mount Diablo.
What started out as an effort to draw attention to the 4,000-foot peak and preserve the then 6,788-acre Mount Diablo State Park, evolved in to a movement that has helped save 110,000 acres as open space and more than 40 parks in the East Bay.
Bonwell, who died July 14 at age 85 in his Concord home, was known by many as one who saw the bigger picture. He was an avid cyclist who picked up the love of the outdoors on long bicycle rides as a kid in Dana, Indiana. Those same long bike rides in the East Bay helped Bonwell envision a swath of open space with Mount Diablo as the focal piece.
"He was a person who very early on saw Mount Diablo bigger than just a state park," said Robert Doyle, general manager for East Bay Regional Parks and a founding board member of Save Mount Diablo. "He saw all the foothills around as part of the mountain physically, and he didn't care who had them, he wanted them protected."
Mary Bowerman and Bonwell formed Saved Mount Diablo in an effort to get Sacramento lawmakers to pay attention to the landmark that was being threatened by rapid development in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Their work helped the group grow from an all-volunteer staff to one with 12 paid workers.
Described by friends as a
"He and Mary (Bowerman) changed the map of what the East Bay would become," said Seth Adams, land program director for Save Mount Diablo and the first person hired as a paid staff member for the group in 1988. "Instead of wall-to-wall development with a small state park in the center, Mount Diablo is the centerpiece of a county with foothill buffers around it that stretches to the Altamont Pass and is protected."
Bonwell's first glimpse of Mount Diablo came while serving in the Navy in the mid to late 1940s. He returned to the Bay Area in 1956 with an electrical engineering degree from Purdue University and was transferred out by Dupont to help build and operate the Dupont-Antioch Works.
He retired in 1982 but had already been active in conservation work, joining the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter and serving as chairman of its Central Contra Costa County Conservation Committee in 1969.
It was his work as chairman for the conservation committee where met Bowerman, a botanist who died in August 2005.
In addition to cofounding Save Mount Diablo in 1971, that same year Bonwell also founded the Diablo Wheelman bicycle club that organized rides and trips throughout Northern California and Oregon. Bonwell also served on the Concord Historical Society board of directors from 1996 to 2009.
A celebration of Bonwell's life is planned for 3 p.m. Aug. 19 at Mitchell Canyon, Mt. Diablo State Park in Clayton. Bonwell is survived by his sister, Jane Bonwell, 88, of Indianapolis, Ind.
Contact Robert Jordan at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/robjordan127.
Survivor: Jane Bonwell, sister, 88, Indianapolis