John Muir Land Trust protects and cares for open space, ranches, farms, parkland and shoreline in the East Bay.
In three and a half decades, John Muir Land Trust has become a leading force for conservation in northern California. With 3,900 acres protected, many of the most beautiful places in the East Bay are permanently preserved for passive recreation, wildlife habitat, protection of clean drinking water, and scenic views. JMLT relies on donations to fund operations, stewardship, programs, and new acquisitions.
We believe that the vitality of our open spaces is essential to the health of our earth, air, water and our native plants and animals – and all of us. Our vision is to ensure that the beauty, diversity and fullness of our natural areas continue to enrich and sustain all generations of life. We acquire, protect and steward these diminishing lands, and we foster environmental awareness so that each person understands the need to preserve our natural heritage.
The Martinez Regional Land Trust was founded around a kitchen table in Martinez in 1989 when a group of local residents gathered to protect a place they dearly loved — 150 acres of Alhambra Valley open space, a property we now call Stonehurst — located within the community of the same name. Just three years later, the Land Trust facilitated the addition of the 325-acre Mount Wanda property to the John Muir National Historic Site. In 1997 the young organization ambitiously sought to acquire Sky Ranch in the Franklin Hills, a 242-acre parcel with a purchase price of $685,000. In order to finance such a significant acquisition, the fledgling Land Trust grew into a professional fundraising organization. At our 10th Anniversary, membership had grown to 700 individuals and the name was changed to Muir Heritage Land Trust.
We continued acquiring critical lands with the purchase of the 80-acre Gustin Ranch in 2000, north of Sky Ranch. The next priority was the protection and restoration of 247-acre Pacheco Marsh, part of the greater effort to recover some of the 90% of saltwater tidal marshesthe Bay has lost. After a decade of effort, it was acquired in 2001. The next year we began stewarding Contra Costa Goldfields, a property of 30 acres that is one of the county’s last stands of an endangered wildflower. In 2003, we saved Bodfish Preserve, a small but treasured Orinda property with dream-world woodlands. Later that year, Dutra Ranch made for a perfect trifecta of adjacent lands along Franklin Ridge — the three are now protected as 480 acres of contiguous open space.
Our largest acquisition, 702-acre Fernandez Ranch, was purchased in 2005 and extensively restored in a $3.5 million project that began in 2008. Two years later, the first 702 acres opened to the public. Long sought-after Franklin Canyon, was acquired in 2010 and its adjacent 483 acres merged into Fernandez Ranch. Treasured for its dramatic views, Acalanes Ridge, the result of grassroots advocacy and a unique partnership of agencies and municipalities, was purchased and then opened to the public in 2011.
In September, 2015 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1289, Rep. DeSaulnier’s bill to add to the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez the 44 acres of West Hills Farm, land purchased and donated by JMLT. John Muir often walked this land with his two daughters, admiring the coast live oak trees that grow there, and the annual wildflowers that punctuate its grassy hillsides. Fittingly, that year we became John Muir Land Trust (JMLT) in honor of John Muir and his heritage of conservation. Thousands of individuals and organizations throughout the East Bay contributed to the Campaign to Save Carr Ranch, leading to its successful completion at the end of 2016. An unprecedented $7 million was raised. These beautiful 604 acres just south of Moraga are now permanently protected watershed land, protected wildlife habitat and open space for the public to enjoy.
JMLT enjoyed a banner year in 2019. We were named a California Nonprofit of the Year for the 16th District by Assembly member Rebecca Bauer-Kahan. In February, we conveyed to the City of Lafayette the 20-acre Batwing acquisition, soon to be a charming community park that residents may enjoy just footsteps from home. In May, overwhelming grassroots support allowed us to save Painted Rock in Lamorinda. An outpouring of donations in the final weeks secured these beloved 84 acres that will soon anchor a 505-acre community open space in the heart of Lamorinda. In December, 281-acre Almond Ranch was saved. Everyone pitched in. An initial $1 million was received from the East Bay Regional Park District, then a $2 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board in August, and finally $1 million in contributions large and small from many thousands of members of the JMLT community.
Recent notable accomplishments include breaking ground on Family Harvest Farm in 2020. Once a vacant lot in a city neighborhood, this 3.5-acre organic farm is now a thriving community resource that employs young adults with experience in foster care. In late 2021, the last remaining levee at Pacheco Marsh was dramatically breached, bringing back tidal flows and allowing the marsh to return as a natural refuge for migrating birds, spawning fish, and the threatened salt-marsh harvest mouse. Harvey Ranch was acquired in January, 2023. Via the connecting Ridgeline Preserve property, Harvey is a new gateway from nearby Lamorinda neighborhoods to Carr Ranch and into the remarkable 15,000 acre wildlife refuge formed by Las Trampas Regional Wilderness and the San Leandro Watershed.
Today, JMLT is back at work where we started decades ago. The Campaign to Expand Franklin Ridge is seeking to acquire two new properties that connect regional trails and fill important gaps in this vital wildlife corridor. It offers a potential of 5 unobstructed miles of ridgeline and a lifeline for over 20 local species.
As proud as we are of the accomplishments of the past 35 years, all of us in the John Muir Land Trust community of supporters, volunteers, and staff look to the next thirty years as even more important. What we achieve together will shape the natural landscape of the East Bay for decades after that. In practical terms, that’s forever.
Perhaps the best way to see what JMLT is up to is our newsletters. We try to make these entertaining to read and informative. Have a look!