When park creation starts with land conservation
What do Tolay Lake Regional Park, Hood Mountain and Taylor Mountain regional parks and preserves have in common? Us!
You may be surprised to learn that land trusts play a crucial role in the creation of public parks by serving as instrumental intermediaries between private landowners and government entities. We frequently initiate the acquisition process with interested landowners and steward these properties as they are transitioned to public agency ownership – a collaboration that moves land from private hands to public lands. This month we reflect on three conservation projects and their path to becoming Sonoma County Regional Parks.
Transitioning a family's ranch to a public park
In December, we proudly announced the acquisition of the 654-acre McCormick Ranch, marking a significant milestone in our ongoing commitment to preserving the natural and productive lands around us. Amidst the cheers and congratulations that followed, a common question emerged – would the public have access to this natural treasure? The unequivocal answer is “Yes!” And the journey to make this happen is a tale worth telling.
Through thick and thin
While the announcement and subsequent transfer of the property may seem like swift actions, they represent the culmination of over 25 years of unwavering dedication and focused commitment to land conservation. This journey included appraisals spanning two counties, weathering two major wildfires, navigating updated post-fire appraisals, and persevering through a global pandemic. The cycle of progress and setbacks was not enough to deter the tenacity and commitment of our staff, board, and partners. Their efforts, sustained by the support of our members and funders, secured the legacy of a history-rich property, honoring the centuries of people who have carefully stewarded this land, which will soon be available for all of us to enjoy in perpetuity.
A glance at the map reveals the strategic significance of this parcel. It completes the vision of an interconnected trail system, uniting over 13,810 acres of conserved or in-process land. Nestled between Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve and Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, it creates an opportunity for new trail connections between the two parks, filling in gaps of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and offering visitors breathtaking 360-degree views of Mount St. Helena, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Sonoma Mountain, the Sonoma Coast, and San Francisco Bay.
Beyond the scenic beauty and recreational opportunities that large, intact landscapes like McCormick Ranch offer, their preservation plays a pivotal role in improving climate resiliency. Continued stewardship of this property enhances fire safety, exemplified during the Nuns Fire, where the property’s 2,500-foot-high summit served as a critical fire break and staging area for CAL FIRE, preventing the wildfire from crossing back into Napa County. Continuing to nurture this land through forest management practices that include prescribed fire will improve ecosystem health, the well-being of our habitats, and community safety.
In preserving McCormick Ranch, we safeguard not just a parcel of land, but an essential wildlife corridor and open space for a diverse range of species to live, and a crucial water resource for Napa and Sonoma counties. McCormick Ranch’s unique location in the Mayacamas mountains frequently receives three times as much rainfall as Santa Rosa and the adjacent valleys. Serving as an important contribution to water absorption and storage in our underground aquifers that benefit Sonoma County residents.
People protect mountains
The preservation of McCormick Ranch stands as a testament to the power of collaboration, perseverance, and the enduring commitment to the well-being of our communities and the environment. It also reflects the impact you can make when you invest in what is important to you. Jeff and Laurie Ubben stepped in with their financial support at a critical moment in the acquisition process, and their contribution is a gift for today and countless tomorrows.
Former landowner Jim Perry and his sons have passed on their family’s legacy through the preservation of the land that held their beloved ranch. This conservation achievement is shared by the entire community, local wildlife, and generations to come.
Our Land Acquisition Director John McCaull said it best, “From scenic vistas to new hiking opportunities, clean water, climate adaptation, and managing land to reduce wildfire risks, McCormick Ranch has it all.” This is a milestone moment and a big win for our community, and we can’t wait to see the benefits of this special landscape in the coming years when it will become open to public recreation and exploration.
La transición de un rancho familiar a un parque público
En diciembre, anunciamos con orgullo la adquisición del Rancho McCormick, de 654 acres, que marcó un hito importante en nuestro compromiso continuo de preservar las tierras naturales y productivas que nos rodean. Entre los vítores y felicitaciones que siguieron, surgió una pregunta común: ¿tendría el público acceso a este tesoro natural? La respuesta inequívoca es “¡Sí!”. Y el viaje para conseguirlo es una historia que merece la pena contar.
En las buenas y en las malas
Aunque el anuncio y la posterior transferencia de la propiedad puedan parecer acciones rápidas, representan la culminación de más de 25 años de dedicación inquebrantable y compromiso centrado en la conservación de la tierra. Este camino incluyó tasaciones que abarcaban dos condados, experimentar dos grandes incendios forestales, navegar por tasaciones actualizadas posteriores a los incendios y continuar durante una pandemia mundial. El ciclo de avances y retrocesos no fue suficiente para disuadir la tenacidad y el compromiso de nuestro personal, junta directiva y socios. Sus esfuerzos, sostenidos por el apoyo de nuestros miembros y financiadores, aseguraron el legado de una propiedad rica en historia, honrando a los siglos de personas que han administrado y gestionado cuidadosamente esta tierra, que pronto estará disponible para que todos la disfrutemos para siempre.
Ampliación del ocio
Un vistazo al mapa revela la importancia estratégica de esta parcela. Completa la visión de un sistema de senderos interconectados, uniendo más de 13,810 acres de terrenos conservados o en proceso de conservación. Enclavada entre el Parque Regional y Reserva de Espacios Abiertos de Hood Mountain y el Parque Estatal de Sugarloaf Ridge, crea una oportunidad para nuevas conexiones de senderos entre los dos parques, cerrando las brechas del Sendero Bay Area Ridge y ofreciendo a los visitantes unas impresionantes vistas de 360 grados del Monte St. Helena, los Valles de Napa y Sonoma, la Montaña de Sonoma, la Costa de Sonoma y la Bahía de San Francisco.
Además de la belleza paisajística y las oportunidades de ocio que ofrecen los grandes paisajes completos como el Rancho McCormick, su conservación desempeña un papel fundamental en la mejora de la resistencia climática. La administración y gestión continuada de esta propiedad mejora la seguridad contra incendios, como se puso de manifiesto durante el Incendio Nuns, en el que la cima de la propiedad, a 2,500 pies de altura, sirvió de cortafuegos crítico y zona de parada para CAL FIRE, impidiendo que el incendio forestal cruzara de nuevo al Condado de Napa. Seguir cuidando esta tierra con prácticas de gestión forestal que incluyan el fuego controlado mejorará la salud del ecosistema, el bienestar de nuestros hábitats y la seguridad de la comunidad.
Al conservar el Rancho McCormick, salvaguardamos no sólo una parcela de tierra, sino un corredor esencial de vida salvaje y un espacio abierto para que vivan diversas especies, así como un recurso hídrico clave para los Condados de Napa y Sonoma. La ubicación única del Rancho McCormick, en las montañas Mayacamas, recibe con frecuencia tres veces más precipitaciones que Santa Rosa y los valles adyacentes. Supone una importante contribución a la absorción y almacenamiento de agua en nuestros acuíferos subterráneos que benefician a los residentes del Condado de Sonoma.
La gente protege las montañas
La conservación del Rancho McCormick es un testimonio del poder de la colaboración, la perseverancia y el compromiso duradero con el bienestar de nuestras comunidades y el medio ambiente. También refleja el impacto que puedes tener cuando inviertes en lo que es importante para ti. Jeff y Laurie Ubben intervinieron con su apoyo financiero en un momento clave del proceso de adquisición, y su contribución es un regalo para hoy y para innumerables mañanas.
El previo terrateniente Jim Perry y sus hijos han transmitido el legado de su familia mediante la conservación de la tierra que albergaba su querido rancho. Este logro de conservación es compartido por toda la comunidad, la fauna local y las futuras generaciones.
Nuestro Director de Adquisición de Tierras, John McCaull, lo dijo mejor: “Desde vistas panorámicas a nuevas oportunidades de senderismo, agua limpia, adaptación al clima y gestión de tierras para reducir el riesgo de incendios forestales, el Rancho McCormick lo tiene todo”. Es un momento histórico y un gran logro para nuestra comunidad, y esperamos con ganas de ver los beneficios de este paisaje especial en los próximos años, cuando se abra a la exploración y el ocio públicos.
Accessing a mountain from your back door
It takes bold actions by dedicated groups to preserve open spaces. Our collaborations with Regional Parks and Sonoma County Ag + Open Space have yielded many successes that you can experience in every corner of the county. One of these is the purchase of 54 acres that will ultimately connect Taylor Mountain’s 1,100-acre park to the new Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway. The Cooper Creek Addition showcases a multi-benefit strategy that expands recreation areas, safeguards intact habitats, and consolidates restoration and stewardship efforts across conservation groups working together for a common goal. Find out how Cooper Creek will provide everyone with access to the mountains!
In 2020, we successfully acquired 54 undeveloped acres adjacent to and north of Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve in Southeast Santa Rosa. This parcel, now named the Cooper Creek Addition to Taylor Mountain Regional Park, was promptly transferred to Regional Parks upon closing. Its protection was further fortified through a conservation easement held by Ag + Open Space.
Initiating the plan involved meticulous attention to zoning and land rights. This open hillside is adjacent to other urban parks and greenways, making it a valuable connector to nature in an increasingly crowded urban environment.
Preserving Nature Nearby
Securing this parcel aligned seamlessly with our Preserving Nature Nearby strategy, dedicated to greening urban areas and creating public open spaces that contribute to the overall health and climate resilience of our communities. The assembly of a complex funding package uniting private and public support allowed us to realize our commitment to creating public spaces that positively impact community well-being.
Looking into the future
With our eyes set on the future, we anticipate that the Cooper Creek Addition to Taylor Mountain will play a pivotal role in connecting Taylor Mountain to Spring Lake Regional Park, Trione-Annadel State Park, and Howarth Park through the long-awaited Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway, creating a network of trails that not only enhance recreation opportunities but also contribute to the larger goal of preserving watersheds, restoring waterways, protecting biodiversity hotspots, and mitigating the impacts of urban heat islands.
This success story is a testament to the power of collaboration and strategic planning in the realm of environmental conservation. As we continue to identify key locations and opportunities, we look forward to further expanding our parks and open spaces, fostering a healthier and more resilient community for generations to come.
Tolay Creek Ranch: Revitalization and recreation
The lifecycle of a land transaction includes many steps and takes time–a lot of time. Some parcels require more investment into stewardship than just a quick transfer to a public agency – their condition requires skilled restoration efforts before they can flourish as public spaces. One such notable transformation is the tale of Tolay Creek Ranch, a 1,665-acre property that Sonoma Land Trust acquired in partnership with Sonoma County Ag + Open Space which underwent a large-scale restoration before it was transferred to Sonoma County Regional Parks and incorporated into Tolay Lake Regional Park.
In 2007, Tolay Creek Ranch was zoned with plans that included over 40 luxury homes on the ridgetop, coupled with vineyards cascading down the hillside. This posed a serious challenge to preserving the ecological integrity of the region, and Sonoma Land Trust stepped in, recognizing the environmental significance of the property and was awarded the sale of the property when the owners filed for bankruptcy. The creek required extensive restoration and protection of the riparian habitat and our team moved quickly to get the funding and a plan in place.
Over the course of a decade, Sonoma Land Trust spearheaded an initiative to revive the severely degraded creek that stretches three miles through the property. In 2017, with mitigation funding from CalTrans, we worked with restoration scientists and community groups and enlisted the support of thousands of school children and volunteers to fully restore the creek. This included fencing off the main water stem from cattle, planting miles of native trees and shrubs, monitoring the health of the ecosystem, repairing stream banks, and implementing changes in cattle ranching practices to enhance grasslands and water quality. That same year, the transfer to Sonoma County Regional Parks effectively doubled the size of Tolay Lake Regional Park, creating an expansion for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers while keeping in place the protections for the wildlife that call the area home.
The property, now known for its thriving biologically rich landscape, hosts diverse habitats that support a myriad of species including the Western Monarch butterfly and its critical lifecycle. From grasslands that provide a home for various bird species, deer, and small mammals, to serving as a vital corridor for mid-sized carnivores such as coyotes and bobcats, Tolay Creek Ranch is a testament to successful ecological restoration.
Visiting the park
Sonoma County Regional Parks, which co-manages the property with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria are the stewards of the second largest park in the regional park system (Hood has recently expanded into the largest park with the McCormick and Salt Creek Additions). Visitors to Tolay Lake Regional Park can experience a range of recreational opportunities. Nine miles of trails offer stunning panoramic views of Petaluma, the San Francisco Bay, Tolay Lake, and Tolay Creek. Whether you are an experienced hiker seeking challenging trails or simply wish to revel in the dazzling wildflower displays during spring, the park has something for everyone.
A Conservation Easement
As part of the acquisition project, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space played a crucial role as a funder and now administers a conservation easement over the property. This easement serves as a guardian, prohibiting all development while allowing for responsible activities such as grazing, public access, habitat and riparian restoration, and park expansion.
Tolay Creek Ranch’s journey from a private property to a restored habitat for everyone to enjoy is a remarkable testament to the power of collaborative conservation efforts. It stands not only as a haven for biodiversity but also as an inspiration for communities seeking to safeguard and restore their natural landscapes.
Thank you for making a lasting impact!
Happy New Year! We want to start this year with our gratitude! We set two ambitious goals during the final months of 2023 — to raise $1.6 million in our End of Year Challenge and $140,000 during the final six days of 2023. Thanks to you, we met both of these goals and have the resources to start 2024 strong! Your gift will help:
- Secure permanent protection for lands that sustain wildlife, support healthy habitats and reduce climate impacts.
- Engage more young people in environmental youth programming, serving students from third to twelfth grade.
- Ensure that Sonoma County remains one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse counties in the United States, forever!
Your support means the world to us. Thank you for investing in our programs and projects that have an impact now and into the future.
Stay tuned to our monthly eNews which provides updates throughout the year on how your dollars are making a difference.
Introducing Riley Scaff, Baylands Stewardship Project Manager
Please join us in welcoming our new Stewardship Project Manager – Riley Scaff! Riley brings a background in botany and geology to their role at Sonoma Land Trust and is passionate about applying these disciplines to our land stewardship and restoration efforts. After completing their undergraduate studies in Southern California, Riley brought their talents to Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona with extensive research experience and positions with the US Forest Service and National Park Service. Riley is excited to be back in California applying their knowledge to the diverse ecosystems of Sonoma County. In their free time, Riley is usually out in nature admiring and investigating plants and rocks, or at home experimenting in the kitchen.
Welcome new board member Anita Das
We’re pleased to announce the appointment of Anita Das to our Board of Directors! A seasoned statistical consultant specializing in biotech and pharmaceutical industries, Anita provides expertise in clinical trial design, analysis, and regulatory affairs for the development of anti-infective drug products. Previously, she served as the owner and Principal Statistician of a Contract Research Organization, contributing to studies in maternal-fetal medicine sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Anita is excited to bring her science background and data interpretation skills to Sonoma Land Trust. She finds the most joy in the wilderness hiking and backpacking, and while she has trekked all over the world, her favorite outside places are in Sonoma County.
We are hiring!
Voted one of the “Best Places to Work” by the North Bay Business Journal, Sonoma Land Trust is more than just a nonprofit — we’re a community working together toward the vital goal of protecting the land forever.
Learn more and apply today!
Who says that fire-wise landscapes have to be barren? In this presentation, Mimi Enright, Program Manager, Community Food Systems & UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County, teaches us how to align the ecosystem services that our gardens can provide with the important aspects of being better prepared for future fire events. Watch the recording in English here.
February 22, 2024 | 7-8:30pm
California’s coastal ecosystems are under stress – kelp forests, seagrass meadows, and salt marshes have been in decline for decades. However, sea otters may be the key to restoring these ecosystems! In this talk by Dr. Brent Hughes of Sonoma State University, we will learn about these predators and their function in restoration, exploring how we might bring sea otters back to the Sonoma Coast to enhance restoration efforts of local ecosystems.
Join us out in nature this month! We’ll be looking for raptors in the Sonoma Creek Baylands, exploring Glen Oaks Ranch, and taking a bilingual family-friendly walk at Cooper Creek.
Visit our outings page to learn more and register.
Strolling sandy Doran Beach in Bodega Bay is one of my favorite weekend activities. Arrive by mid-morning to enjoy the quiet, and head toward the rock formations on the east end. Keep an eye out for seals playing in the surf, foraging shorebirds, and diving pelicans. Bonus: Grab a scone or loaf from Wild Flour Bread in Freestone to enjoy while you watch the waves!