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Sheri Cardo
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sheri@sonomalandtrust.org

Pole Mountain Preserve

The tallest point along the Sonoma Coast


Live Oaks Ranch

Pole Mountain is a 238-acre iconic oak woodland property situated in the rugged hills between Jenner and Cazadero at the highest point along the Sonoma Coast. From the summit of Pole Mountain at 2,204 feet, one can experience unparalleled 360-degree views of the coast and interior landscapes. Just above a blanket of ridges, there are clear views in all directions — the sweeping coastline, the rocky hillscapes of the Cedars and beyond to Wine Country in the east, snowcapped mountains in Mendocino County in the winter and, on especially clear days, Mount Tamalpais and Mt. Diablo can be spotted to the south.  

Acquisition of Pole Mountain created a 6,368-acre contiguous protected area from the shore to the highest point along Sonoma’s coast, providing a critical wildlife and recreational connection between two existing preserves: Little Black Mountain and the Jenner Headlands. Little Black Mountain is a rugged 500-acre property that was one of the first preserves donated to Sonoma Land Trust in 1979. Forty years later, under the leadership of then-acquisitions director Amy Chesnut, the Land Trust acquired the 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands, the largest conservation project in Sonoma County history at the time. Sonoma Land Trust conducted initial stewardship activities and developed the integrated resource management plan for this working landscape, and then donated it to The Wildlands Conservancy (TWC) in 2013 for long-term stewardship and public recreation management. The three preserves create a vast landscape of wild land protected forever as a refuge for wildlife and, soon, a recreation destination for the hardiest of hikers.

Adventure awaits

The Pole Mountain / Jenner Headlands recreational complex is tantamount to the Point Reyes of Sonoma County. Nowhere else can one find such a rigorous and rewarding hiking experience from the shores of the Pacific to the summit of Pole Mountain at 2,204 feet.
On September 7, 2018, both the Jenner Headlands and Pole Mountain Preserves are opening to the public for hiking thanks to our partnerships with The Wildlands Conservancy and the Sonoma Ag + Open Space District. Pole Mountain is the first Sonoma Land Trust preserve that we will open and manage for unguided public hiking. More commonly, like with the Jenner Headlands, we transfer properties to public agencies like State Parks or Sonoma County Regional Parks — organizations for which public recreation is their core mission.

With TWC’s completion of the Gateway to the Headlands parking lot, trailhead and other amenities on Highway 1 on the Jenner Headlands Preserve, hikers will have unfettered access to more than 14 miles of trails, including a half-mile ADA trail to a spectacular overlook of the coast, and the five-mile coastal loop trail. Of course the real draw for intrepid and fit adventure-seeking hikers is the “Sea to Sky” Trail, which climbs from the coastal bluffs of the Jenner headlands to the summit of Pole Mountain, a 15-mile roundtrip ascent with over 3,600 feet of elevation gain — strenuous, yes, but well worth the 360-degree views!
In addition to the sweeping vistas, Pole Mountain boasts diverse ecological wonders for hikers to enjoy. On the steep climb to the top, hikers can rest under the oaks, redwood and Douglas firs, or cool their tired feet in the creek as they cross Russian Gulch. Along the way, keep an eye out for the wild animals who inhabit the preserve, from deer to badgers and golden eagles.

Acquiring the mountain

Pole Mountain first came to the attention of Sonoma Land Trust through the family of Paul Elliott, a philanthropist who bought the land in 2004. The family recognized what a treasure Pole Mountain could be if kept as open space and wanted to prevent future development. Seeing the opportunity to connect the property with the Jenner Headlands and Little Black Mountain Preserves, Land Trust staffer Amy Chesnut stayed in touch with the family over the years.

Then, in 2014, the Elliott Family decided to sell Pole Mountain and knew that Sonoma Land Trust would be a good steward of their cherished landscape. With the generous support of Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, the California Wildlife Conservation Board, the California State Coastal Conservancy, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and many generous donors, the Land Trust was able to finalize the permanent protection of Pole Mountain in June of 2014.

Mosaic of habitats

Pole Mountain is an iconic landscape comprised of a mature oak woodland habitat with hybrid oaks, rolling grassland hills and pockets of riparian and coniferous forest. The property contains the headwaters of three creeks: Kidd Creek, Pole Mountain Creek and East Branch Russian Gulch. This mosaic of habitat types is home to a diverse mix of wildlife species, including raptors, songbirds, mountain lions, coyote and bobcat, as well as reptiles and amphibians.

Hybrid oaks

Live Oaks Ranch Oak hybrid species thrive on this mountaintop due to the unique mix of climate, soils and geography. Closely related oaks that are found here hybridize, a process in which genes from one species combine with those of another to produce offspring with a mix of traits, providing oaks the right conditions to rapidly adapt to a diverse and changing climate. Oregon white oak and valley oak hybridization is a common feature in the woodland areas of Pole Mountain and the Chase Oak, a cross between the evergreen coast live and deciduous black oak, is also found on Pole Mountain.

People from the “Top of the Land”

The Kashaya Pomo were the first inhabitants of lands along the Sonoma Coast from the Gualala River to the north to Duncan’s Landing south of the Russian River, and approximately 30 miles inland. They have been stewards of the coast for thousands of years and continue to protect the coastline and lands around it to this day. Today, the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians (they use both spellings interchangeably) is a federally recognized tribe with an intact language, a thriving culture and ownership of ancestral lands along the coast and on the ridge. Protecting this land from sea level to the top of the mountain helps preserve the rich cultural identity of the area.

Pole Mountain Fire Lookout

The Land Trust’s acquisition of Pole Mountain created a forever home for the fire lookout. The tower was originally constructed in 1967 and moved to this summit in 1981 following the Creighton Ridge Fire of 1978. Since then, lookout staff have been detecting smoke to prevent wildland forest fires, personal injury and property damage. The group detects some 15−20 fires on average each year, and is the very first to report about two fires per year. They confirm fires that are reported and provide weather updates that help determine fire danger levels and the size of crews sent to new fires. They also are a resource for area residents who telephone the lookout if they see smoke. The Pole Mountain Fire Lookout is on the National Historic Lookout Register, is the last functioning fire lookout tower in Sonoma County and is one of only 30 remaining staffed fire lookouts in the state of California.

Rangeland management

The rolling grassland hills of Pole Mountain are comprised primarily of exotic annual grasses and cattle grazing can promote the establishment of native forbs. Thanks to our new rangeland management plan, we hope to see native species that have been suppressed begin to populate the site.
Livestock grazing can also prevent the encroachment of woody shrubs and conversion of grassland to shrubland, as well as reduce the accumulation of fine fuels and risk of wildfire. Since the catastrophic fires of recent years, we take seriously the need to protect the surrounding rural communities by managing fuel loads while maintaining the ecological integrity of the landscape.
Relative to other options for controlling invasive plants (herbicide, mowing or prescribed fire), livestock grazing is the most viable management tool in this steep and remote terrain. Livestock grazing also supports our local food system and local economy, and maintains the historical uses of the land.

 

 

 

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