My wife and I live a few miles outside Willits in Northern California, a small rural town located along the Highway 101 corridor. Within a few years of moving here in 2002, I began working as a volunteer news photographer for a local paper—The Willits News (TWN). Most of the shots I took were to accompany stories about local events, human interest pieces, benefits, and the occasional traffic accident. It was a great way to meet people and be involved in the community.
In 2013 CalTrans (California Department of Transportation) broke ground on the controversial Willits Bypass. When TWN asked me to take photos documenting the $460 million project expanding 6 miles through Little Lake Valley, I accepted. The building of the bypass divided the town between those for and those against its construction. That led to tree-sitters, protesters, a large California Highway Patrol (CHP) presence, confrontations, and over 50 arrests...including my own.
In February 2015 I was awarded the James Madison Freedom of Information Award by the Northern California Chapter Society of Professional Journalists for my coverage of the Highway 101 Willits bypass project. It was the first time the award was given to a photojournalist. It was an unexpected and amazing honor.