Sonoma Mountain Vernal Pools Preserve

By Sara Edwards, Press Democrat

This article originally appeared in the Press Democrat on April 5, 2023. Reprinted with permission

A 174-acre span of land along Sonoma Mountain that features lush green meadows, seasonal pools of water and a variety of endangered flower species has been conserved so future generations may discover its qualities as a natural haven.

Known as Sonoma Mountain Vernal Pools, the property was purchased March 10 by the Sonoma Land Trust, a charitable nonprofit that buys land with the goal of conservation, in partnership with the Sonoma County Ag + Open Spaces, which acquired a conservation easement for the tract of land. The purchase further contributes to California’s goal of conserving 30% of the state’s lands by 2030.

The land is considered a “biodiversity hotspot” and is adjacent to Trione-Annadel State Park. The goal is to eventually transfer the land to a recreational agency and make it accessible to the general public as part of a neighboring park.

“It saddens me that we are seeing large pristine areas developed by urban sprawl leaving fewer natural, unspoiled spaces,” Patricia Dinner, owner of the land, said in a statement.

Dinner owned the land with her sister, Carolyn Ferris, and used the property as a family gathering spot. They celebrated the land’s beauty and the natural resources it boasted.

Their grandfather, real estate developer Benjamin Swig, purchased the 174-acre property on Bennett Valley Road in Glen Ellen in 1959 to serve as a refuge from his busy, urban life in San Francisco.

Dinner and Ferris never wanted to see the land developed, so they sold it to the Sonoma Land Trust to secure its future. Sonoma Land Trust will own and manage the land while Ag + Open Spaces will focus on conservation efforts.

The property is unique in that it features vernal pools, many of such historical habitats in California have been destroyed due to agricultural expansion and urban development, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Vernal pools are a type of temporary wetlands found in areas where a hard underground layer prevents rainwater from draining into the soil.

Land acquisition program manager Jeff Conti said the Glen Ellen land has four rare and endangered plants and connects Trione-Annadel State Park to Sonoma Mountain protected lands.

“Conservationists and Land Trust are always looking to link protected areas because it’s one way to ensure that our protection and biodiversity outcomes have a chance of staying protected and staying in place,” Conti said.

Some of the rare plant species found at the Vernal Pools property include Baker’s navarretia, Dwarf downingia and Jepson’s leptosiphon — all annual herbs that are native to California, according to nonprofit plant identification website Calflora.

“It’s very strategic, as well as being a really fascinating collection of plants and wildlife.”

Sonoma County Ag + Open Space is a voter-created organization funded by taxpayers that helps to conserve and permanently protect Sonoma County land. And Sonoma Land Trust has protected nearly 58,000 acres of land in and around Sonoma County since 1976.

“Easements are great because they can be a tool for protecting so many types of properties,” spokesperson Lauren Alpert said. “It gives us space to really hear from our communities about what they prioritize, and then go after those goals.”

Olivia Fiori, an acquisition specialist with Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, said the Vernal Pools property is essential for accomplishing wild land, healthy community and water goals as described in the Vital Lands Initiative, a long-term plan prioritizing Sonoma County Land conservation through 2031.

“This property features rare and threatened plants, some associated with Vernal Pools located on the property and some not,” Fiori told The Press Democrat.

“The conservation of the Sonoma Mountain Vernal Pools property is just another great example of how we can do more together... to protect our most precious, resource rich and natural working lands.”

Access to the property is closed off for now, but, Conti said pre-scheduled, guided tours will be offered in the spring with registration beginning in April on Sonoma Land Trust’s website.