Olema Valley historic ranch leased to University of California for research

05/29/2019

The University of California this month expanded its Natural Reserve System with the inclusion of a historic Olema Valley ranch, which it began leasing from the Point Reyes National Seashore last year. The ranch, operated by the seashore since the early 2000s as the Pacific Coast and Learning Center, is the latest addition to the reserve, a network of now 41 field sites the university maintains statewide. The university will host its own students at the facility, now called the Point Reyes Field Station, but will also rent the site to school groups and nonprofits for day use in order to fund operational costs; camping and dorm stays will range between $10 to $40 per person. Dr. Allison Kidder, the manager of the field station, said the site is open to all researchers who plan to conduct studies in the park. “We rely on the science developed from the university to help us better manage park land, soil and water,” said Dr. Ben Becker, a marine ecologist for the seashore who helped facilitate the agreement. “The expertise of university research informs our decision-making.” The ranch, which is part of the Olema Valley Dairy Ranches Historic District, has housed researchers from universities and other entities since repairs were made after a structural fire in 2000. The 3,000-square-foot ranch building includes a library, several bedrooms and one room equipped with bunk beds and a full kitchen; there is also a campground on the site, with space for around 20 tents. Last year, the University of California formalized its use of the building and immediate surrounding grounds, signing a five-year lease agreement with the National Park Service. The university’s Natural Reserve System has similar arrangements with other national parks, including Yosemite and Lassen, but this is the first of its kind within the seashore. Unlike other leases within the park boundaries, the “cooperative ecosystem studies unit” agreement stipulates the property’s use for research and education; though the park will review the agreement every five years, it intends for it to last in perpetuity. Already the site has been selected for a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on how the microbial community interacts with plant roots to affect soil carbon turnover, storage and loss. The 200-plus acres of land surrounding the ranch house were originally settled in 1856 by Benjamin Miller, who eventually purchased the property from the Shafter family in 1861 for a total price of about $15 an acre, according to “A Good Life: Dairy Farming in the Olema Valley” by historian Dewey Livingston. In 1860, Mr. Miller’s ranch, which included about 100 cows alongside horses, sheep, oxen, pigs, crops and an orchard, produced over 3,000 pounds of butter, 2,000 bushels of Irish potatoes, and peas, beans, wheat and oats. The ranch changed hands several times during the late 1880s until it was purchased by Thomas Healion. After Mr. Healion’s death in 1909, his son Arthur and his wife, Caroline, built their home—now the field station—around 1915 while they raised their family and operated the dairy. In 1938, Mrs. Healion sold the ranch to George Hagmaier, who built a barn and several accessory buildings that remain today; the ranch has commonly been known as the Hagmaier ranch since then.