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For father and son Norman and Gary Wilson, Black Mountain is like a part of their family, stretching back to the Gold Rush days when their pioneer relatives hunted grizzly bear and deer on its flanks.

Generations of Wilsons and their cousins have used an old hunting cabin nestled on a creek between Geyser Peak and Black Mountain, which loom more than 3,000 feet above the Alexander Valley floor and Geyserville.

So they find it offensive that a comparative newcomer would want to change the name of the mountain, especially if he happens to be Sonoma County's wealthiest man.

Vintner and attorney Jess Jackson, through his company Jackson Family Enterprises, is proposing it be changed to "Alexander Mountain," to help establish a new grape-growing designation of the same name that would encompass his property.

The company in May asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to rename the mountain.

"It's serving one individual's purposes. None of the property owners were notified what was going on," said Norman Wilson.

Together with with his sons and other relatives, Wilson owns more than 400 acres on both sides of Black Mountain, stretching to its peak.

"It's been Black Mountain ever since I can remember it," said Wilson, 83.

"Almost all the old-timers are against it, except the ones who are selling to Kendall-Jackson," he said, referring to Jackson's flagship wine label.

Pete Downs, a vice president for Jackson Family Wines, said Friday the name change is part of the company's intent to bolster the case for a new American Viticultural Area for the grapes grown on Jackson's 5,400-acre estate.

"We think there is an area just below Alexander Mountain — what is now Black Mountain — that should be recognized for growing superior grapes and making superior wines," Downs said.

After Jackson bought the property in the 1990s, he changed its name to Alexander Mountain Estate.

But that is no reason to change the historic name of Black Mountain, said Gary Wilson, 53. "Why change something that our pioneers coined?" he asked.

He is related to settlers that include Ira Bidwell, a hunter in the 1850s who one early historian described as "an excellent shot, and during those early days many grizzly bears fell before his unerring aim."

These days grizzlies are extinct in the area. But the Wilsons are armed for bear in another way, saying they have have collected approximately 300 signatures against the name change.

They plan to lead a "bus load" of people to Sacramento on Jan. 15 when the California Advisory Committee on Geographic Names weighs the name change request before forwarding its recommendation to federal officials.

"Most are opposed to it being done for commercial purposes," said Harry Bosworth, owner of Bosworth & Son general store in Geyserville, who has gathered more than 140 of the petition signatures.

"Others said if he (Jackson) wants to change the name, he should negotiate with the community and give something back — donate a little park, or give people permission to traverse some of his Black Mountain territory in return for changing the name," Bosworth said.

Jackson Family Wines several years ago applied to federal alcohol regulators for a special "Alexander Valley" subappellation, but there has been no decision.

When the company applied to the U.S. Board on Geographic names earlier this year to change the name of the 3,128-foot peak to Alexander Mountain, it did not mention the previous bid for a special wine designation.

Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees

Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.

The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.

There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.

Instead, it said the mountain should be renamed to eliminate one of the many duplicate names that occur throughout the country. Downs said there are 49 summits in California named Black Mountain, including four in Sonoma County, and 266 throughout the United States.

He also said the name Alexander Mountain would eliminate confusion and also reflect the link to Alexander Valley, which is named for Cyrus Alexander, the former Rocky Mountain trapper who settled in the area in the 1840s to manage a Mexican land grant.

Black Mountain, known for at least a century, may have been named for its relatively dark appearance from below. But it's also possible it may have been named after an area family.

The 1898 Sonoma County Atlas shows more than 2,200 acres owned by George H. Black and L.S Black above Alexander Valley, although the parcels appear closer to Geyser Peak than Black Mountain.

The omission of the motivation for the name change — essentially to bolster the identity of Jackson's estate vineyards — upset some local residents.

And it could be detrimental when the agency in charge of geographic names weighs the request.

The fact that the applicant didn't mention a commercial and marketing tie-in to the proposal "won't go over well at all," said Jennifer Runyon, chief of staff to the Domestic Names Committee for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

"The federal board doesn't like to approve geographic names that are for commercial purposes. They see that as a huge red flag," Runyon said. "It will carry a lot of weight in their decision and probably not favorably at all, in my experience."

She said local opinion is also a big factor:

"People don't want the federal government coming in and changing the name of a place without permission," she said.

Downs suggested last week that the opposition seems to revolve around Jackson's high profile and wealth.

Jackson's company is the largest wine group in Sonoma County, with about 30 different wine brands. Jackson is also known for his involvement in horse racing and ownership of some of most highly prized horses in the world.

But opponents said they were taken aback by the true reason for renaming Black Mountain.

"The real idea behind the name change is for marketing purposes only. It should be noted that Mr. Jess Jackson does not own Black Mountain," Gloria Ferguson Barrios, member of a pioneer Alexander Valley family, wrote in an e-mail to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

"The request is being made only for Mr. Jackson's self interest, who in reality could be considered a "newcomer" to the area," she said. "We take exception to those who have no respect for the history of the area, nor for the people who have &'deep roots' here."

Downs said Friday that Jackson was traveling and unavailable for comment.

But he said there are no plans to drop the name change application.

"We think it's a good idea," he said. "That's why we made the submission."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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