OAK GLEN, Calif.― After a two-and-a-half-year effort and with support from private donors, volunteers, state agencies, partner organizations and elected leaders, The Wildlands Conservancy, a California nonprofit, has secured the 29,600-acre Lone Pine Ranch ― which will be known as the Eel River Canyon Preserve.
The property includes fantastic geology, 18 miles of river frontage, carbon sequestering forests, herds of Roosevelt elk and significant wetlands.
Today’s acquisition includes 21,600-acres acquired by TWC and roughly 8,000 acres acquired by national nonprofit The Conservation Fund, in a unique and collaborative conservation victory.
“This acquisition continues our focused effort to protect the National Wild and Scenic Eel River, with a vision of free public access along the future Great Redwood Trail,” said David Myers, The Wildlands Conservancy’s president, “We’re grateful to the Witter family for entrusting us with their legacy, and for our partners’ support in bringing this acquisition to fruition.”
Purchased in World War II by celebrated California financial broker Dean Witter, the land has been cared for by the Witter family ever since, leaving a legacy that will now be permanently conserved and opened to the public for passive recreation.
“Our family is incredibly grateful to be passing this precious property on to The Wildlands Conservancy,” said Brooks Witter, who is representing the family. “At every step of this process, we grew increasingly confident in their vision and capacity to preserve this place for future generations. It is an honor to know that the Lone Pine will serve a key role in protecting the vitality and health of the whole watershed.”
The Conservation Fund, a national leader in land conservation, is taking a primary role in the project, acquiring 8,086 acres of the preserve. The Fund will serve as an interim holder of this portion of the property for up to three years while final acquisition funds are sought by the Conservancy.
“The Lone Pine Ranch is one of California’s gems, and today’s victory is a critical step in the protection of its recreational resources, ecological importance, and stunning scenic beauty,” said Steve Hobbs, California state director at The Conservation Fund. “Our partial acquisition of Lone Pine Ranch is an exciting addition to The Conservation Fund’s portfolio of impactful land conservation in California and we’re honored to be a part of it.”
Generous support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation made this acquisition a reality, as did funding from the California State Coastal Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Board.
The Center for Biological Diversity contributed key funds and support throughout the campaign and has been a tireless defender of California’s ecological diversity. The Center’s contribution used funds designated in a recent settlement with Placer Ranch, Inc. for the permanent protection of biologically important land.
“Protecting 30,000 acres at the heart of the Eel River corridor is one of the most important conservation actions in recent California history,” said Peter Galvin, cofounder and director of programs at the Center. “This historic conservation purchase will ensure permanent protection for one of the most wild and scenic river stretches in the western United States. The ‘Grand Canyon of the Eel River’ is home to dozens of endangered species and rare wildlife. The Wildlands Conservancy’s heroic and visionary efforts to restore the Eel River and California’s wildlands will be appreciated by generations to come.”
A resolute champion for the Eel River, California State Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) has catalyzed the creation of a Great Redwoods Trail, following the route of the abandoned Northwestern Pacific Railroad for 320 miles and linking the San Francisco and Humboldt Bays. The Trail will serve as a gateway to the scenic countryside and wild backcountry of the Eel and Russian River watersheds.
“The Eel River Canyon is like no other place in the west, and it will be the crown jewel of the Great Redwood Trail,” Sen. Mike McGuire said. “The $10 million that we were able to secure this year helped The Wildlands Conservancy acquire this spectacular piece of earth, Lone Pine Ranch. This amazing property will be opening to the public soon and will feature a breathtaking twelve miles of trail along the Eel River with a total of 18 miles of riverfront. We couldn’t be more thrilled.”
In 2019 The Wildlands Conservancy used private donations to purchase the first 3,000 acres of the Eel River Canyon Preserve fronting 3.5 miles of the Eel River. This acquisition secured a two-year option to purchase the remaining 26,600 acres for $25 million, which is being completed in four separate transactions.
The Eel River Canyon Preserve acquisition is part of Eel River Emerald Necklace conservation project, which links a system of preserves spanning the Grand Canyon of the Eel to the estuary. The Preserve is a day’s paddling journey downstream from The Wildlands Conservancy’s Spyrock Reserve, which has five miles of frontage on the Eel and is located 80 miles upstream from the Conservancy’s Eel River Estuary Preserve where the river meets the Pacific Ocean.
The Wildlands Conservancy owns and operates California’s largest nonprofit nature preserve system, including the 93,000-acre Wind Wolves Preserve in Kern County, the largest nonprofit preserve on the West Coast. Open to the public free of charge, these preserves offer free hiking, camping, and access to nature. The Wildlands Conservancy recently led the campaign to have land it previously donated to the U.S. Interior Department designated as the 1.6 million-acre Mojave Trails National Monument, one of the largest national monuments in the lower 48 states.