Santa Rosa, CA – August 23, 2021 – This month the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) will transfer ownership of a 1,236-acre coastal property to Sonoma County Regional Parks. This land, owned and managed by Ag + Open Space as Wright Hill Ranch, will eventually open to the public as a regional park and open space preserve adjacent to the Red Hill portion of Sonoma Coast State Park, just south of where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean.
"We are so thrilled to bring another public park to the Sonoma Coast and Wright Hill Ranch is perfectly situated to connect with existing parks and public lands in that area,” said Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins. “The beauty of this land is that it provides multiple benefits to our community – it offers a space for recreation and exploration, it maintains the stunning scenic landscapes of our coastline, it allows for continued grazing to support local agriculture, and it helps to mitigate the effects of climate change."
Protected archaeological sites and a 19th century homestead provides a vital connection to both indigenous and immigrant cultural history. Previously inhabited by the Coastal Pomo tribes, the property was purchased by the Wright family in 1863, who raised sheep and cattle, and operated a dairy. The Poff family purchased the property from the Wright family in 1953. Jack Poff and his wife Irene lived “off the grid” on the ranch for nearly two decades before moving to Petaluma in 1995. Visitors to Wright Hill Ranch describe it as a unique and spiritual place where one can feel the presence of those who have previously inhabited the land.
Wright Hill is an expansive coastal property made up of a mosaic of coastal grasslands, wildflowers, rock outcrops, bay-oak woodlands and redwood-Douglas fir forests, and supports special status species such as Townsend’s big-eared bat and American badger. The property’s picturesque coastal grasslands and rock outcrops can be seen by residents and visitors traveling along Highway 1.
Adjacent to thousands of acres of Sonoma Coast State Park on one side and protected private lands on the other, the Wright Hill property is a key piece in the ongoing efforts to protect lands stretching from Bodega Bay to the Jenner Headlands. The land also provides a potential alignment for the California Coastal Trail, a state-mandated 1,200-mile continuous multi-use trail envisioned to run from Mexico to Oregon.
Ag + Open Space purchased the ranch in 2007, supported by $4.85 million in public funds and a $750,000 grant from the California Coastal Conservancy. At the time, it was anticipated that the property would be transferred to and operated by California State Parks. However, due to budgetary constraints, State Parks was unable to accept title to the property. Ag + Open Space then developed a management plan and began to work with Regional Parks on a potential park and open space preserve that would protect its scenic and natural resources, while also providing for public recreation.
Ag + Open Space and Regional Parks have a long history of working together to conserve lands for natural resource protection, stewardship, and public recreation. Over the last 30 years, Ag + Open Space has provided 7,871 acres of land to Regional Parks, which is just over half of Regional Parks’ total acreage. In the last three years alone, Ag + Open Space has transferred ownership or helped to acquire 4,368 acres of land for the creation of five new parks and open space preserves that the community can look forward to exploring in the future.
“By permanently protecting lands like Wright Hill Ranch, we’re working to fulfill our mission to preserve natural systems and support wildlife – with the added benefit of helping us build climate resiliency by conserving lands that can sequester carbon and help us adapt to changes in temperature and landscapes,” said Ag + Open Space General Manager, Misti Arias. “Through our partnership with Regional Parks, these protected lands also offer important opportunities for the public to exercise and immerse themselves in the outdoors both now and for future generations.”
With the mounting challenge of climate change, it’s important to protect lands that are diverse in elevation, habitats, plant communities, and microclimates to ensure wildlife have ample room for migration and adaptation in the face of rising sea levels, warming temperatures, and environmental changes. Expansive in its own right, Wright Hill adds to the collection of protected lands that rise from sea level to the ridge lines of prominent hills and peaks along the coast. The ranch boasts a variety of habitats that help provide ample room for species migration and mitigate the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.
"Wright Hill Ranch, with its sweeping views of surrounding watersheds and the Pacific Ocean, is uniquely situated to expand public access opportunities on the Sonoma Coast," said Sonoma County Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker. The soaring popularity of parks and open spaces during the pandemic has also shown there's a significant need for more outdoor recreation opportunities and ways to sustain mental and physical health.
The Sonoma Coast is an important and inspiring regional destination. “The unique landscapes and awe-inspiring views from Wright Hill create new opportunities to easily access wilderness-like experiences and will create new avenues for immersive outdoor education,” said Whitaker. "We look forward to working with Ag + Open Space to ensure long-term care for this land, as we welcome the public to enjoy it.”
Starting this winter, Regional Parks, with funding support from Ag + Open Space, will host a series of self-guided “preview” outings so the public can enjoy the preserve as Regional Parks plans for full public access, a process which typically takes three to five years. As part of fully opening a new park, Regional Parks must complete a master plan to guide the development of trails, recreational and educational uses, and stewardship of the natural resources. Public outreach for Wright Hill’s planning process is set to begin in early 2022.