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Estate donation from late Sea Ranch couple helps preserve Sonoma County landscapes

An innovative businessman with a booming laugh and presence as big as the redwoods, Pete Mattson dedicated much of his life to preserving Sonoma County’s open spaces alongside his equally dedicated wife Patty Mattson.

A team both in the food and beverage product development company Pete started, Mattson and Company, and in their philanthropic work, Pete and Patty have left a lasting impact through the old growth and second growth redwoods they helped protect and in the open spaces they helped set aside from development.

Those expanses include the prized 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands Preserve open to the public on the Sonoma Coast.

“He had a big voice, he was a tall big man, he had a huge laugh and smile and said what was on his mind,” Sam Hodder, President and CEO of Save the Redwoods League, said of Pete. “And he believed in doing big things in his philanthropy.”

In early 2021, Pete died at the age of 82, following Patty, who died in 2016 at the age of 76. Together they left $2 million evenly distributed to the Sonoma Land Trust and Save the Redwoods League, solidifying a legacy already destined to endure.

Their contribution was not about ego.

“It really was a genuine passion, not a vanity project,” said their son, Andy Mattson, of Hillsborough. “They really had a long term commitment to preservation and it was really kind of a lifelong thing that really became stronger and stronger as they went through life.”

Pete became a member of San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods League in 2014, after serving on the league’s council for years, said Hodder.

Hodder credited Pete with expanding the group’s mission by focusing on protection of land around old growth redwoods, not just the groves themselves. Hodder called him a “visionary.”

Pete had a similar influence over Sonoma Land Trust’s approach, according to Eamon O’Byrne, the organization’s executive director.

Pete got involved with Sonoma Land Trust in the early 2000’s, Byrne said, and served as board chair from 2005 to 2009. During his tenure Pete steered the organization through two huge projects — acquiring Sears Point ranch overlooking San Pablo Bay and the $36 million Jenner Headlands property, still the most expensive preservation deal in county history.

Jenner Headlands Preserve manager Brook Edwards enjoys the view overlooking the coast, in the hills above Jenner, on Thursday, April 28, 2016. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Jenner Headlands Preserve manager Brook Edwards enjoys the view overlooking the coast, in the hills above Jenner, on Thursday, April 28, 2016. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Both projects required a tremendous fundraising effort, made even more difficult by the recession hitting the nation at the time, O’Byrne said.

“Pete challenged us to think more systematically and think more strategically about what kinds of properties we were going to acquire,” O’Byrne said. “What we were protecting them for and who we were protecting them for.”

Those working with Pete knew they’d also get the benefit of Patty’s help, as the couple were a team in everything.

“My father’s success with his company and, to a certain extent in life, was largely facilitated by my mother,” said Andy.

Hodder recalled Patty as a “wonderful and very accomplished and amazing woman.”

The pair met while attending college at UC Berkeley and married in 1962.

The $1 million the couple gave to the Save the Redwoods League has gone directly to the Harold Richardson Redwoods Reserve, which the organization acquired in 2018, Hodder said.

Calling the acquisition and the Mattson’s contribution “a really big deal,” Hodder explained the organization is planning to grant public access to the property northeast of Timber Cove, marking the first new old growth redwood park to open in a generation.

He described the reserve as “a gem, — ”kind of a treasure, a best of what’s left acquisition.”

There are many factors that influenced Pete’s love of the outdoors and fostered his passion for protecting it, said his son Andy. Chief among those reasons was Pete’s childhood in Los Angeles where population was dense and trees were scarce — there were just five in his neighborhood.

“He always thought (that) being in the old growth or second growth was analogous to being in a cathedral,” Andy said.

Pete’s frequent business trips also stoked his passion for the outdoors, Andy said.

Unlike Pete, Patty was introduced to Northern California’s forests at a young age. Her family owned a forested ranch on Skaggs Springs Road between Lake Sonoma and Stewarts Point.

Pete and Patty settled on the Peninsula, south of San Francisco, where they raised their two children, Andy and daughter Marianne, now of Salem, Oregon. They spent much time visiting national parks and family living in The Sea Ranch — a spot close to the couple’s hearts and where they eventually became homeowners.

“He was just a one of a kind spirit and a California treasure like the redwoods he loved,” Hodder said.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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