Sutro Easement

A San Francisco family has donated a sprawling 1,380-acre parcel atop Atlas Peak to the Land Trust of Napa County. The property is not open to the public. 

Submitted photo

The estate of a San Francisco family has donated 1,380 acres of ridgetop land northeast of Napa to the Land Trust of Napa County.

The Sutro Ranch is the largest land gift in the Land Trust’s 38-year history. It comes with a $450,000 endowment to cover the cost of managing the property, Doug Parker, the trust’s CEO, said Wednesday.

The ranch, located at the end of Atlas Peak Road, is a gift from the estate of Elizabeth “Betty” Sutro, who bought the property with her husband, John, in 1950, the Land Trust said. The family used the ranch until Betty Sutro died in 2012.

“We’re very thankful to Betty Sutro for her farsighted commitment to the property and its long-term protection,” Parker said. “She was a longtime friend and supporter of The Land Trust and we look forward to a long relationship with her entire family.”

The Land Trust had been in talks with Betty Sutro for years about preserving her estate in perpetuity, Parker said. She used the gift as “a vehicle to make sure the land is protected forever,” he said. Donations also come with tax benefits.

The Sutro family retains 160 acres at the end of Atlas Peak that contain residential structures, Parker said. The donated property, which is reachable only through the family’s retained holding, will not be open to the public, he said.

Down the road, as ownership or circumstances change, the issue of public access could be revisited, Parker said.

For now, the only way for the public to walk the Sutro estate, which includes varying topography and elevation, will be to volunteer for a Land Trust work party to remove invasive species, such as star thistle, and do routine maintenance, he said.

The Land Trust has not fully inventoried the vegetation and animal life on the Sutro donation, which includes forest, shrub and grassland as well as several streams, Parker said.

The property covers four miles of largely undeveloped ridgeline, including Atlas Peak at 2,663 feet elevation. The donated land is visible from many points in Napa County as well as from the west side of the Napa Valley, Parker said.

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With the latest acquisition, the Land Trust has now preserved major stretches of ridgeline on the east side of the Napa Valley between Napa and Calistoga, he said. Because of earlier acquisitions and easements, practically the entire ridgeline between Calistoga and Angwin has been protected from development, he noted.

Since its founding in 1976, the Land Trust has completed more than 150 real estate projects, including 130 easements, protecting more than 55,000 acres, the Land Trust said.

The 1,380-acre Sutro donation is substantially larger than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, at 1,017 acres, and Central Park in New York City, at 843 acres.

Unspoiled scenery, such as that provided by the Sutro property, is valuable for both those who live in the Napa Valley and those who visit, Parker said.

Visit Napa Valley published the results of a survey conducted of visitors to Napa, asking them what they enjoyed most about their stay. The No. 1 choice was “scenic views.”

“This acquisition will certainly contribute toward the preservation of those views over the long-term,” he said.


Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.

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