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McCormick Ranch

The 654-acre McCormick Ranch overlooking Napa and Sonoma counties will become public open space. 

A ranch at the top of the Macayamas Mountains west of St. Helena is targeted to become a 654-acre open space area where hikers can see sweeping Bay Area views.

The Sonoma Land Trust has signed an agreement to buy the McCormick Ranch in Napa and Sonoma counties. The deal is to close in November 2020, after the group raises the final $1.75 million of the $14.5-million purchase price.

Jim Perry of Napa said the family ranch is 2,500 feet in elevation at one point. It has a 360-degree view that on a clear day takes in a distant San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais, Santa Rosa, Mount Diablo and Snow Mountain.

“It is a really special place as far as grandeur and view,” Perry said. “It’s wild, it’s very wild ... there’s a black bear running around, bobcats.”

McCormick Ranch is to be reached by trails from Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge parks in Sonoma County. A road leads there from Napa County, but the last section is an easement over private property and is not open to the public.

But access from Napa County is possible someday, Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District General Manager John Woodbury said.

“I sure hope so,” he said. “That’s the intent. There are a couple of different ways to do it practically. We don’t have anything secured at the moment.”

Passage of Measure K in March would provide the resources to pursue access from Napa County, Woodbury said. Measure K is a ballot measure to raise the county sales tax by a quarter-cent for parks and open space.

The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District is to own the 401-acre Napa County section of McCormick Ranch.

McCormick Ranch has eight legal building parcels. It has the potential to become estate properties with vineyards, Perry said.

“My sons and I just decided that’s not the way we wanted to go with it,” Perry said. “We wanted it to be preserved.”

The Perrys will discount the sale of the ranch to the Sonoma Land Trust by $3.6 million.

McCormick Ranch dates to 1844, when William McCormick and his family settled there to raise cattle and sheep. The Mexican government told them to leave, but they returned after the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846.

The ranch had one of its first mentions in a local newspaper in the Sept. 2, 1885 Independent Calistogan. A hunter killed an 800-pound bear on the ranch and caused a stir by strapping the dead animal to his horse and parading it through St. Helena.

McCormick Ranch has long been known in St. Helena, where family members over the decades went to school.

Perry in 1986 married Sandra Learned, daughter of Babe McCormick Learned, who lived on the ranch. In 1997, Sandra Perry created Acorn Soupe, a nonprofit that brought school children to the ranch for environmental education. Sandra Perry died in 2015.

“There’s probably hundreds of kids from Napa and Sonoma who have been there and planted oak trees and went down and hugged Grandma Oak,” Jim Perry said.

Grandma Oak was a 300-year-old oak that fell over in the October windstorm, he added.

Jim Perry said the ranch and its pastures played a role in protecting Napa County and St. Helena from the October 2017 wildfires. Firefighters were able to use bulldozers along the ridge of the ranch to open up a huge firebreak.

“It burned 100 acres of our property, but they stopped it right on our property. It was headed to St. Helena,” he said.

John McCaull of Sonoma Land Trust said in a press release that the McCormick Ranch preservation will do more than provide a new hiking area.

“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 people and wildlife,” he said. “From scenic vistas to new hiking opportunities, clean water, climate adaptation and managing land to reduce wildfire risk, McCormick Ranch has it all.”

McCormick Ranch will be protected by two conservation easements held by the Land Trust of Napa County and Sonoma Ag + Open Space.

With most of the funding secured, the Sonoma Land Trust needs the community to help reach the finish line, Land Trust Executive Director Eamon O’Byrne said in a press release.

To make donations, go to https://sonomalandtrust.org.

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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.