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NR 2003-30
October 23, 2003

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

STATE GRANT HELPS PROTECT MENDOCINO COUNTY RANCH
THAT STORIED SEABISCUIT USED TO ROAM

WILLITS, Calif. – The race is on to protect Ridgewood Ranch, a remarkable property that is the final resting place of legendary racehorse Seabiscuit, and the Mendocino Land Trust is out of the gate quickly thanks to a grant from the California Department of Conservation.

The Mendocino Land Trust and Golden Rule Church Association, which owns Ridgewood Ranch, hope to establish a permanent conservation easement on 4,636 acres of the 5,000-acre property. Their goal is to raise $6 million through grants and donations to preserve prime farmland including irrigated pasture, orchards and an organic farm; old-growth redwoods, five miles of fish-bearing creeks, vernal pools, oak woodlands, habitat for diverse species of plants and wildlife, and scenic vistas that border both sides of California Highway 101 for three miles.

The Department of Conservation is setting the pace toward achieving that goal, today signing a letter of intent to provide up to $1 million through the California Farmland Conservancy Program toward the preservation of Ridgewood Ranch. In exchange for the funds, non-agricultural development potential on 180 acres of prime farmland and 340 acres of grazing land will be permanently off-limits, ensuring that land will remain in agricultural use. The ranch is located between Willits and Ukiah and ultimately will face development pressure as those communities grow.

“We’re pleased to be the first funding agency to step up in support of this very worthy project,” DOC Director Darryl Young said. “It’s gratifying to help preserve the legacy of Seabiscuit, an American icon. But the property is worthy of preservation in its own right. We salute the efforts of the Mendocino Land Trust and the Golden Rule Church Association to protect this ranch. I’m confident that other funding sources ultimately will support this project.”

Ranching began at the site in 1859. From 1921 to 1951, the Charles Howard family owned the property and turned it into a thoroughbred breeding ranch. It’s most famous resident was Seabiscuit, who is buried under an oak tree on the ranch.

Tours of the ranch are conducted by the Willits Chamber of Commerce and the Golden Rule Church Association, and the landowners will donate funds to a permanent endowment to ensure that public access will allowed even after the property is under an agricultural conservation easement. The University of California, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and California Department of Fish and Game conduct workshops on the ranch because of the outstanding stream restoration work that has been done there.

In addition to the acreage used for grazing and other agricultural purposes, Ridgewood Ranch employs a method of intensive organic farming that has been widely copied and is planning an organic “pick your own” cherry orchard.

“This is a unique property, and the time to conserve it is now,” said Ridgewood Ranch Project Manager Roger Sternberg. “Over the years, the Golden Rule Church Association has had to sell 11,000 acres of the original ranch to maintain the remaining property. It would be a shame to see the ranch subdivided. It has agricultural value, conservation value, educational value, historic value and aesthetic value.”

California's agricultural production totaled more than $29.8 billion in 2001. But California's population of about 35 million is expected to grow to nearly 50 million by 2025, and many acres of farmland are being developed to accommodate that growth.

“While it’s important to accommodate our growing population, we must remember that farmland is a vital and irreplaceable natural resource,” DOC Director Young said.

The California Farmland Conservancy Program, administered by DOC’s Division of Land Resource Protection, is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed.

LOCAL CONTACT: DeeLynn Carpenter, 707-962-0470. For more information on the Ridgewood Ranch project, visit www.MendocinoLandTrust.org.

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