An open space near you gets bigger and better.
In March of 2021, the Solano Land Trust completed a ten-year process to preserve and protect 259 acres of valuable wildlife habitat and prime rangeland. The new properties expand the 1,000-acre Lynch Canyon Open Space, which is open Friday through Monday for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Following maintenance and restoration, the expansion will offer a new arena to observe the natural world, hike the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and appreciate the glory of protected agricultural land just a short drive from your home.
Thousands of commuters glimpse the terrain of the expansion properties daily. Just north of I-80 and the exit marked for Hiddenbrooke/American Canyon Road, the rolling hills begin the buffer zone of open land between Vallejo and Fairfield. Perhaps you’ve seen cows hulking along the ridges, red-tailed hawks swooping above the fields, or the shape of a deer or coyote flickering into your view.
If you took a closer look, you would see wildflowers dancing on windblown slopes: native yarrow, blue-eyed grasses, narrow-leaved mule ears. Downhill, cottonwoods and willows shade a 4000-foot-long creek. As the sound of the freeway fades from earshot, you might hear cooing doves and Downey woodpeckers hammering at the trees. If you get lucky, you might see a rare California red-legged frog, whose habitat requires delicate watersheds on lands such as these.
Fundamentally, you would see land that looks much as it had for a very long time.
And that is the point.
Land is where interests come together
When land changes, the character of a place changes. Drive along the terraced vineyards of Napa County and you’ll see why they call it Wine Country. But visit present-day Silicon Valley and you might not recognize a land of fruit trees and flowering plants once dubbed the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”
In Solano County, there are farmers and ranchers who fondly remember the sprawling farms and orchards of Santa Clara County, and rue the years where they disappeared bit by bit. Sixty-two percent of Solano County land is agricultural; over eight hundred farms and ranches call this county home, and most operations occur on fifty acres or fewer. Taken together, it adds up to something mighty. Of the Bay Area’s nine counties, only the winegrowing powerhouses, Sonoma and Napa, outgross the value of Solano County’s agriculture production, which hit $372,113,000 in 2019, with almonds, tomato processing, and cattle leading the industry.
Such numbers — drawn from the Solano County Agriculture Department’s Weights and Measure division’s 2019 Crop and Livestock report — only scratch the surface of the land’s true value. Farmers know that their world-class soils didn’t settle here overnight; they dread the day the blacktop might cover them up.
That’s when the concept of a conservation agreement comes into play.
An agreement to protect natural lands and family farms and ranches
“Many of us are familiar with landowners selling their oil and mineral rights,” executive director Nicole Braddock says. “But what is less known is that landowners can choose to sell or donate the development rights. The purchase happens through a conservation agreement that protects the property as farm or ranch land forever. There are not very many buyers for development rights, but one of them is Solano Land Trust.”
While the Land Trust offers many miles of trails to explore, most conservation agreements are held on lands that remain private. But there are public benefits without public access. Landowners commit to preserving their land’s scenic and productive value; cattle and sheep chew up fuel for future fires; trees and watersheds on farmland support precious wildlife, from birds that fly to the arctic, to beetles that exist nowhere outside the county.
These partnerships make it possible for a donor-supported operation like Solano Land Trust to focus its small staff and sturdy coalition of volunteers on the Open Spaces like Rush Ranch, Patwino Worrtla Kodoi Dihi Open Space, Jepson Prairie, and Lynch Canyon.
A view of what’s to come
Much work lies ahead for the expansion properties. Volunteers and staff have to mitigate invasive species, slow erosion, and build trails. But for Benicia resident Bob Berman, taking in the vistas from a chair on the property puts a bright future in view. Bob is a member of the board of directors for the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the “500-mile multiuse loop trail” that ties the Bay Area together. Before that he served on the board of the Land Trust for twenty-seven years.
“The expansion adds opportunities for hiking and provides for a future route for the Bay Area Ridge Trail. That’s a great opportunity,” Bob says. The trail already runs through Lynch Canyon, but a new path would more easily connect hikers to Hiddenbrooke trails and Napa’s Newell Open Space. Down the line, a new parking area could shorten the drive to the property. “It could be a great staging area,” Bob says.
To acquire its first new properties in ten years, Solano Land Trust leveraged the gifts of three major donors, over $2M in federal funding, support from the Department of Transportation and Solano County, and proceeds from years of Lynch Canyon Trail Runs.
But this land’s greatest support may prove its connection to the land around it. Over 2,500 acres of contiguous open space surround the expansion properties, including Newell Open Space, land owned by American Canyon, and privately-owned Ferrari Ranch (which is protected by a conservation agreement with Solano Land Trust). “Instead of working with a patchwork, we have islands that we can build out,” Nicole says. For bobcats, river otters, and great-horned owls, this means room to roam and thrive. For ranchers, a place to make their livelihood, and continue the work that feeds this country.
And for you, it will offer a chance to know this landscape better, to love it even more.
The Solano Land Trust invites you to explore our open spaces in the most informative way possible, on docent-led hikes and trail crews. Below is a recurring schedule. Visit https://solanolandtrust.org/events for full details.
1st Saturday of the Month: King Swett Open Space
2nd Saturday: Patwino Worrtla Kodoi Dihi
3rd Saturday: Rush Ranch
4th Saturday: Lynch Canyon
2nd Saturday: Lynch Canyon
4th Saturday: Patwino Worrtla Kodoi Dihi