President, Landis PR
Property will expand Hood Mountain park, ridge trail and wildlife linkage — and build resiliency to wildfire and climate changes
SANTA ROSA, CALIF. — Sonoma Land Trust has signed an agreement to purchase the breathtaking and historic 654-acre McCormick Ranch, which spans the ridge between Sonoma and Napa Counties in the southern Mayacamas Mountains, for $14.5 million. The purchase is scheduled to close in November 2020 and ownership will be transferred to local park agencies. Adjacent to 7,800 acres of already protected land, the portion of the ranch in Sonoma County will be added to Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve and the Napa County parcel will be owned by Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. Both agencies will jointly manage the new parkland.
“Acquiring such a large and wild landscape along the top of a mountain range is particularly important because of the many benefits it will bring to people and wildlife,” says John McCaull, Sonoma Land Trust’s acquisition manager for the Sonoma Valley. “From scenic vistas to new hiking opportunities, clean water, climate adaptation and managing land to reduce wildfire risks, McCormick Ranch has it all.”
The matriarchs of McCormick Ranch
McCormick Ranch has been owned by members of the same family for 175 years. William McCormick and his family first settled the original ranch in 1844 and began raising cattle and sheep. The family was ordered by the Mexican government to leave the land shortly thereafter, but returned to the property after the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. The ranch eventually passed to William’s son, Henry. When Henry died in a hunting accident in 1879, his wife, Molly Hudson McCormick, took over managing the ranch.
Sadly, before leaving on his ill-fated trip, Henry had sold his herd of cattle and buried the proceeds — no one knew where. With five children and no money, help or herd, Molly became a shrewd businessperson to keep her family, ranch and butcher shop afloat. When she passed away in 1905, her son John worked the ranch for another generation, raising his daughters Ina and Edna (“Babe” as Edna became known) to have a keen appreciation for the ranch’s rugged beauty as well.
Babe McCormick Learned lived on the ranch as the Napa Valley transformed into a world-renowned wine-growing region. Babe’s pioneer spirit endured: She could be found corralling rattlesnakes, searching for Henry’s buried treasure with a metal detector, and ranching with her husband and son until she lost them both during one tragic year. After their deaths in 1975, Babe and her daughter, Sandra, continued running the ranch and eventually sold 1,000 acres off to Sonoma Ag + Open Space to expand Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, now known as the McCormick Addition.
Fifth-generation Sandra Learned married Jim Perry in 1986 and, in 1997, formed a nonprofit foundation, Acorn Soupe, to provide environmental education to children in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Over the years, hundreds of schoolchildren visited McCormick Ranch to learn how to be good stewards of the land.
After Sandra’s death in 2015, Jim and their sons, Scott and Cole, began exploring the possibility of a conservation sale of their beloved family ranch to protect it forever and reached out to Sonoma Land Trust.
“My late wife came from a long line of strong women who worked the ranch,” says Jim Perry. “We knew how much they loved this land and wanted to preserve it for future generations.”
McCormick Ranch has it all
When Sonoma Land Trust considers properties to protect, it looks at an array of ecological factors and conservation targets, including watersheds, wildlife habitat, vegetation diversity, endangered and at-risk species, ability to foster climate resilience, recreational access and more. The organization also looks at the potential threats from not protecting the property, which, in this case, would include critical habitat and natural resource loss, and no public access if the land were converted to residential or agricultural use. It is zoned for up to eight estate homes and the area has considerable vineyard coverage.
Just as the Sierras collect and store much of California’s water supply, our regional mountain ranges are critical to the water resources and river health of Napa and Sonoma Counties. Situated along the crest of the Mayacamas Mountains, McCormick Ranch frequently receives three times as much rainfall as Santa Rosa and adjacent valleys. The ranch serves as Sonoma County’s “continental divide” with Napa County, with tributaries and stretches of Santa Rosa Creek, Iron Mine Creek and Bear Creek, flowing into the Russian River, Napa River and Sonoma Creek, respectively. Chances are good that some of the water that a Sonoma County resident uses today started its journey on McCormick Ranch.
The 654 acres comprising the ranch are also in the center of the Marin Coast-Blue Ridge Critical Linkage, an 85-mile wildlife movement corridor stretching from Point Reyes to the Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument. Protecting the ranch is particularly important for the survival of wide-ranging carnivores, like black bear and mountain lion. The property, which remains a largely pristine, natural habitat, also supports a mosaic of native plant communities, from oak woodland and forest to chaparral and grassland.
Climate change and wildfire
Landscape connectivity is the most widely cited strategy to achieve climate adaptation because it allows for the migration, movement and dispersal of wildlife and plants, resulting in healthier ecosystems. Protecting and stewarding large, intact landscapes like McCormick Ranch is one of the best strategies for improving climate resiliency. With its diverse topography and biological attributes, the ranch meets many of the criteria that scientists recommend to ensure that conservation projects are resilient to climate change.
McCormick Ranch proved critical to CAL FIRE’s efforts to combat the Nuns Fire in 2017. Its 2,500-foot-high summit was used to create a fire break and staging area that prevented the blaze from crossing into Napa County and threatening St. Helena.
Getting out on the land
A property’s suitability for public recreation is another factor that Sonoma Land Trust considers in conjunction with the potential impact on wildlife. As a relatively wild and undisturbed landscape accessible only by existing trails from Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge parks, McCormick Ranch will provide a long-anticipated connection for two- to three-day backpacking trips along a 20-mile multi-use loop trail. And with views of Mount St. Helena, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Sonoma Mountain, the Sonoma Coast and San Francisco Bay, McCormick Ranch will add an awe-inspiring three-mile stretch to the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
“The views from McCormick Ranch are unparalleled and will provide park visitors an experience unlike any other in the Mayacamas,” says Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.
“From the top of ‘Big Hill’ on McCormick Ranch, visitors are treated to 360-degree views of the Sonoma Coast, San Francisco Bay and the Sierra,” says John Woodbury, general manager of Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. “We are grateful to the Perrys for making this incomparable landscape available to us all.”
Partners and funding
Sonoma Land Trust is under contract to purchase McCormick Ranch by November 2020 and is collaborating closely on the project with Sonoma Ag + Open Space, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District, and the Land Trust of Napa County.
The Land Trust has spent much of the last three years working to assemble the major funding needed and has secured commitments for $12.75 million. That includes a landowner bargain sale of $3.625 million, $6.875 million from public funding sources, $2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $250,000 from an individual donor, leaving an additional $1.75 million to be raised by next year.
“When people support Sonoma Land Trust, they can feel good about how much their gift is leveraged,” says Eamon O’Byrne, executive director of Sonoma Land Trust. “With much of the financing already secured, we now need the community’s help to bring us over the finish line.”
After the deal closes
Upon acquiring the property, Sonoma Land Trust will immediately transfer the ranch to the Sonoma and Napa county park agencies, which will jointly own and manage the land as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park. The property will also be forever protected by two conservations easements held by Sonoma Ag + Open Space and the Land Trust of Napa County, which will spell out specific conservation values and stewardship objectives for habitat and wildlife conservation. After the purchase is completed, Sonoma County Regional Parks will initiate a planning process with public engagement to develop a management plan for the property. Once the plan and any necessary infrastructure improvements are completed, McCormick Ranch will open to the public, realizing the conservation legacy of the McCormick Family.
“We are incredibly pleased to see this wonderful addition to our county’s Regional Park system,” says Sonoma Ag + Open Space general manager Bill Keene. “Over 20 years ago, we had the good fortune to work with this family to conserve their ranch. Today, we have come full circle and are pleased to realize the long-term goal of protecting their remaining land as both a wilderness area and new public access point up on the ridge.”
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About Sonoma Land Trust
Sonoma Land Trust believes land is the heart of the community and that when the land is healthy, the community is healthy. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations. Sonoma Land Trust is the recipient of the National Land Trust Excellence Award 2019 by the Land Trust Alliance and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org. #ProtectThePicture