Sonoma Land Trust could purchase Sonoma Coast's highest peak

Sonoma Land Trust has the catbird seat in a purchase deal that would shield the highest peak along the Sonoma Coast from development while aiming to eventually open it up to public access.

Acquisition of the 238-acre tract, which includes the 2,204-foot Pole Mountain, would protect a nearly pristine landscape of oak savannah, say officials with the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit group, which has negotiated a $2.35 million deal to buy the property.

It also would secure the future of a nearly unrivaled vista point along the coast — including its historic fire lookout — protect habitat for a variety of wildlife, and join two adjacent preserves that take in a large swath of the rugged hills immediately north of Jenner.

"We've been waiting a long time for this opportunity," said Amy Chesnut, the land trust's acquisition director. She traced the group's interest in the property to conversations with the landowners that began about seven years ago.

Since 2004 the property has been held by the family of Paul Elliott, a former local telecom executive and philanthropist.

The deal is the latest in a string of purchases to set aside open space and wildland in the coast range. The most recent was the acquisition of 19,645-acre Preservation Ranch outside Annapolis, the largest deal by size in county history, aimed primarily to protect a vast forest from vineyard development.

Public access, a contentious issue in west county, could follow more easily from the new deal because Sonoma Land Trust already controls adjoining land. It is making plans to serve hikers, cyclists and other visitors.

Purchase of the coast's dominant peak could offer an additional treat for the ambitious: a sea-to-skyline trek, leading several miles up through the protected forest to jaw-dropping, 360-degree views stretching from Point Reyes to Lake County and beyond.

"You could put your toes in the water down in Russian Gulch, and then come all the way to the top and experience all of these habitat types," said Chesnut, of the land trust.

The property is home to mountain lion, fox, coyote and a number of bird species; it has streams that lead to the Russian River that feed steelhead and salmon habitat.

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