Ag + Open Space Transfers 1,200 Acres to Regional Parks for Future Park & Open Space Preserve

December 19, 2018

Posted in: Press Releases

Ag + Open Space Transfers 1,200 Acres of Protected Land to Regional Parks for Future Park and Open Space Preserve

SANTA ROSA, CA (December 5, 2018) – Today the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space), a special district dedicated to protecting our working and natural lands forever, transferred nearly 1,200 acres of land purchased by the agency to Sonoma County Regional Parks (Regional Parks) to eventually open to the public as a Regional Park and Open Space Preserve. Ag + Open Space worked with local landowners for over 15 years to preserve this area forever, investing nearly $23 million in local tax dollars to conserve these valuable lands, with direction from our Board to protect this open space for the public to enjoy.

“As a critical component our county’s water supply, the Mark West watershed is a priority for protection, enhancement, and enjoyment,” said 4th District Supervisor, James Gore – chair of the Board of Supervisors and the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors. “The conservation of our working and natural lands, including this new park and preserve, provides so many benefits to our urban communities, including clean and abundant drinking water supplies, flood control, and thriving salmon populations. We are learning so much about watershed health through the lens of last year’s fires and are committed to making our community and our watersheds resilient to extreme events, whether that be floods, fires, or other effects of climate change.”

“Our parks and open space are such an important part of the fabric of our community, creating respite for our residents year-round, but especially are places of solace during difficult times,” said Susan Gorin, 1st District Supervisor and Ag + Open Space Director. “I’m so pleased this new park and preserve will provide new recreational opportunities and places of refuge, while also protecting habitat for so many critically important fish and wildlife species.”

Since 2002, Ag + Open Space has worked with three families to purchase and protect nearly 1,200 acres of valuable scenic and natural resource lands. The district purchased the first property – 340 acres – from the Cresta family in 2007. Over the course of the next ten plus years, Ag + Open Space purchased five more parcels – 737 acres across two parcels from the McCullough family, 47 acres from the Wendle family, and an additional 68 acres across two parcels from the Cresta family. These properties make up the future 1,192-acre Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, which will provide residents with large natural area to explore off Porter Creek Road, just minutes from downtown Santa Rosa.

“We are so grateful to the Wendles, McCulloughs, and Crestas for allowing us the privilege of working with them to conserve their land over the last decade and more,” said Ag + Open Space General Manger, Bill Keene. “Because of their desire to conserve their lands and share them with the community, we have this incredible opportunity to provide our residents with a wild, rugged, and beautiful natural area to explore so close to where many people live.”

Even though the new park and preserve is close to an urban area, its rugged terrain and natural landscapes make it feel worlds away. The centerpiece is Mark West Creek, its tributaries, and an extensive riparian corridor which provides protection of endangered species and significant natural habitat. The park and preserve includes a mix of grasslands, chaparral, oaks, Douglas fir, redwoods and riparian areas along Mark West, Porter, and Mill Creeks, all of which provide home to such endangered species as Coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Ag + Open Space sought to conserve this magnificent area because of its amazing natural resources, significant wildlife habitat, beautiful scenic vistas, and the potential for it to become a place for the public to explore on foot, on two wheels, or on horseback. Further, the park and preserve joins with two other properties protected with Ag + Open Space conservation easements and Pepperwood Preserve to the north to form 4,500 acres of continuous protected land, which provides valuable habitat and movement opportunities for fish and wildlife.

The new park and preserve also provides the community with an extraordinary, up-close opportunity to see how our natural landscapes are recovering from last October’s wildfires. This landscape is adapted to fire and many plant species are able to thrive under these conditions. A year later, coast redwoods, bays and other forest species are re-sprouting and the burned slopes in the watershed continue to provide habitat for native species to grow and live. Fortunately for the many fish and wildlife that utilize these areas, the stream corridors on the property largely avoided damage from the fire.

Ag + Open Space transferred the suite of parcels to Regional Parks, who will now initiate an approximately five-year planning process to develop the land for public access. Regional Parks will offer interim public access through “park preview” days beginning this winter.

Ag + Open Space is able to provide three years of funding to pay for the initial costs of planning, operating and maintaining the preserve. Measure M, a 1/8-cent sales tax for Sonoma County parks approved by voters Nov. 6, will provide crucial, longer-term funding for the future park.

“We appreciate the tremendous effort and vision that has made the transfer of these Mark West properties possible,” said Regional Parks Director Bert Whitaker. “And we are grateful for the financial support voters have ensured. We are proud to own this stunning landscape and to start the process of turning it into the park for all to enjoy.”


Media Contact:
Amy Ricard | Community Relations Specialist