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Historic McCormick Ranch to be added to Sonoma, Napa open space

A historic 654-acre homestead will soon be added to the Sonoma County regional parks system, one that promises to enhance the wild landscape system at the crest of the Mayacamas Mountains between Napa and Sonoma counties.

Though it’s not a done deal – the $14.5 million price tag has yet to be fully raised by the Sonoma Land Trust, which is shepherding the purchase – upon its sale, the McCormick Ranch will also add to an 85-mile wildlife corridor stretching from Point Reyes to the Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument, according to Land Trust officials.

“From scenic vistas to new hiking opportunities, clean water, climate adaptation and managing land to reduce wildfire risks, McCormick Ranch has it all,” said John McCaull, the Land Trust’s acquisitions manager for the Sonoma Valley.

As if that’s not enough, the ranch is thought to include a buried treasure – proceeds from long-ago ranch owner Henry McCormick’s sale of a herd of cattle in 1879, which he buried just prior to dying in a hunting accident. He took the secret of the buried treasure with him.

Though the Land Trust is in negotiations to purchase the property from family descendant Jim Perry and his sons, they will donate the acreage to Hood Mountain Regional Parks upon its purchase, expected to become final in late 2020.

The property is the final element of the once-extensive McCormick Ranch, originally settled by William McCormick and his family in 1844 which, at one time, totaled about 3,000 acres. Much of it has already been transferred either to regional or state park protection.

The property is adjacent to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park – which benefitted from an earlier sale of 1,000 acres of the property in 1977, now known as the McCormick Addition – but the Sonoma Land Trust purchase will donate about half of the land to Sonoma County’s Regional Parks system. The rest of it will be donated to a similar agency in Napa County.

As such, it will become part of Hood Mountain Regional Parks, accessible through a conservation easement held by Sonoma Ag & Open Space. Napa officials will explore a Napa-side access to the area in the future, said Napa Regional Parks general manager John Woodbury.

Access is limited at present, though some intrepid hikers are familiar with the territory. Bill Myers of Bill & Dave’s Hikes welcomes the addition, saying on Wednesday, “I love it. Just hiked it yesterday with friends.”

Several recent Bill & Dave’s Hikes have penetrated the McCormick property, one of several former homesteads that comprise much of the Sugarloaf-Hood Mountain complex including the former Lawson and Hurd properties.

Bert Whitaker, director of the county’s Regional Parks, was enthusiastic about the cumulative benefits of these homestead properties. “As these large open spaces get larger, they act as a buffer for climate change and fire safety – we need to continue buffering this open land for wildlife natural resources, and the headwaters of Sonoma and Santa Rosa creeks.”

When the donation is complete, the property will begin a three- to five-year planning process to determine how best to access it, what sort of facilities to maintain, and how to manage a multi-use trail system, said Whitaker, for hikers, mountain bikes and horses.

One of the distinctive features of the McCormick lands are the exceptional views they provide of Sonoma and Napa counties, including other Bay Area regions and, on a clear day, all the way to the snow-capped Sierra Nevada.

The region, which averages about 2,500 feet in elevation, also serves as the headwaters for both Sonoma Creek and tributaries of the Russian River and Napa River.

“Chances are good that some of the water that a Sonoma County resident uses today started its journey on the McCormick Ranch,” said Sonoma Land Trust’s Sheri Cardo in the press release announcing the acquisition.

Cardo also made it clear that the purchase is not yet final, as an additional $1.75 million needs to be raised by next year for the November 2020 purchase date to go through. That would bring the total purchase price to $14.5 million; so far major donors have included $2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (also supporters of the Land Trust’s Tolay Creek Ranch purchase, and Sonoma Valley Regional Park), and $250,000 from an individual donor, as well as landowner sales and public funding resources.

But that final $1.75 million still needs to be assembled. Donations can be made by going to sonomalandtrust.org, or mailing checks to Sonoma Land Trust, 822 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, CA 95404.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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