Sonoma Land Trust will purchase and protect the breathtaking and historic 654-acre McCormick Ranch, which spans the ridge between Sonoma and Napa Counties in the southern Mayacamas Mountains.
In the same family for five generations, the land sold for $14.5 million. It links by trail to Sugarload Ridge and Hood Mountain parks.
The purchase is scheduled to close in November 2020 and ownership will be transferred to local park agencies. A property zoned for eight estate homes will instead be an expansion of Hood Mountain park, a ridge trail and increased wildlife sanctuary.
“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.”
McCormick Ranch has been owned by members of the same family for 175 years.
Sonoma Land Trust saw 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.
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.
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.
A property’s suitability for public recreation is another factor that Sonoma Land Trust considered. 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(family) for making this incomparable landscape available to us all.”
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 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.”