SONOMA COAST — Conservationists are seeking to set aside from development a windswept stretch of ranchland perched above Bodega Bay that could one day offer visitors, including hikers and possibly boaters, an nearly unrivaled view of Sonoma County’s sculpted coastline from Point Reyes to Jenner.
The 547-acre Estero Ranch, also known as the Bottarini Ranch, includes a mile of frontage on the Estero Americano, a remote tidal estuary that empties seasonally into Bodega Bay south of the harbor.
If the $3.8 million purchase deal goes through, the expansive ranch property would become part of a patchwork of public and protected lands in the area, connecting at one corner with the Sonoma Land Trust’s 127-acre Estero Americano Preserve and with the county’s Shorttail Gulch Trail, which leads to a sandy beach below the Bodega Harbour subdivision.
It would provide critical linkage in the wildlife corridor running along the Marin and Sonoma coasts and accommodate a stretch of the California Coastal Trail, a planned 1,200-mile route intended eventually to run the length of the state.
The ranch also would retain its agricultural traditions, including cattle grazing and a small abalone farming operation on a 12-acre lease near the water, as well as offering opportunities to manage and study the adjoining estero and sensitive coastal prairie covering most of the ranch.
“This is a very exciting property to be able to protect,” said Dave Koehler, executive director of Sonoma Land Trust, which is spearheading the acquisition. “The estuary is where life begins for hundreds of fish and wildlife species, and the working ranch is a cornerstone in the scenic landscape of the Sonoma Coast. Its permanent protection has been a conservation goal of our organization for more than 20 years.”
The ranch, located at the end of Estero Lane off Highway 1 south of Bodega Bay, rises from the estuary at the boundary of Marin and Sonoma counties to a point 600 feet above sea level, offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding region. It is mostly coastal grassland that in spring blooms into a blanket of wild iris strewn with wild blackberry and other native wildflowers. Cypress stands dot the property.
Resident wildlife includes badgers, bobcats, herons, hawks and an abundance of deer. Birds seek out the ranch for rest and forage on their north-south Pacific Flyway migration route.
“It’s just a great resource,” said Amy Chesnut, acquisitions director for Sonoma Land Trust.
The preserve would be owned and managed by The Wildlands Conservancy, owner/operator of the Jenner Headlands Preserve farther north.
The purchase is dependent on the Board of Supervisors allocating up to $2 million through the county Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Agency staff are set to recommend approval of the funding next month.
The California Coastal Conservancy already has approved $900,000 toward the acquisition, while the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has offered up to $1 million, according to Chesnut.
“It takes a while to get the funding together, so we’re thankful to the family for giving us that time,” Chesnut said of the Bottarini trust and family heirs, who are selling land that’s been in their hands for more than six decades.
The property, once the Albini family dairy until the Bottarinis bought it in 1954, came on the market last year — with an asking price of $6.9 million. The land trust secured a purchase option for $3.8 million, and the family has since extended that contract, eager for the conservation deal to succeed, Chesnut said.