The hills east of Watsonville protect us from the urban growth spreading down Highway 101 from San Jose to Salinas. In this photo you can see Gilroy just over the crest of the hill. The Pajaro Hills are visible from Highway 1 and from Lighthouse Field. You pass by or through them on Highways 129 and 152. In 2012, the Land Trust protected the 1,200-acre Star Creek Ranch at the heart of this 24,000 acre region – initiating the protection of an eastern greenbelt for Santa Cruz County.
Star Creek Ranch has it all
When you visit the Pajaro Hills you feel as if you’ve discovered a slice of Old California. Groves of oaks, grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers, the hills folding into each other, a quietly running creek. These hills are one of those places identified in the Conservation Blueprint where conservation could deliver the greatest benefits for the least dollars. Star Creek Ranch has it all: wildlife habitat, fish habitat, water supply, recreational opportunities, biodiversity, connections to other large habitats, revenue to fund stewardship, and partnerships to protect adjoining lands.
Wildlife Connectivity Map
The Pajaro Hills (shown in red on the map) are a critical wildlife corridor connecting the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Gabilan and Diablo mountain ranges to the south and east. Star Creek Ranch is at the heart of this region. It is a key linkage for a wide variety of wildlife, including deer, bobcats, wild turkeys, mountain lions, hawks, and eagles.
Water and Fish Habitat
More than six creeks and springs originate on the property, including Pescadero Creek, an important Steelhead spawning stream. Threatened species such as the Southwestern pond turtle and the California Red-legged frog have been seen at Star Creek Ranch. As part of the greater Pajaro Valley watershed, the property is vital to groundwater recharge and the ecology of the Pajaro region.
Climate Change Resiliency
The Conservation Blueprint identified lands that would give plants and animals a better chance of surviving a warmer, drier climate. These lands would have steep elevation changes, north facing slopes, diverse micro-climates, and year-round water resources. Star Creek Ranch has these characteristics and ranks among the highest in the county as an important climate change refuge.
A Brief History
Since the mid-nineteenth century, main use of Star Creek Ranch has been timber harvesting, though the property has hosted a great many other ventures too. In the 1850s, lumber extracted and milled on the property was used to build the nearby city of San Juan Bautista. Throughout the 1930s and early 40s, the Dodge family lived on the ranch and offered 25 cent per night campsites for weary travelers. In the 1950s there was a Girl Scout camp along Star Creek, a tributary to Pescadero Creek.
Roughly a third of the Star Creek Ranch is redwood forest. The Land Trust plans to sustainably harvest redwoods, as it has done since 1984 at its 400-acre Byrne-Milliron Forest outside Corralitos. Funds generated from harvests will go toward stewardship of the property and maintenance of the additional 11,850 acres of land under the Land Trust’s care.
Star Creek Ranch has 24 miles of unpaved roads and trails, which can provide the basis for a wide range of recreational opportunities in the future. Because the ranch borders all the large neighboring ranches in these hills, it is the critical link in providing connections to other lands as they are protected – as well as to currently protected lands, including Clark Canyon Ranch (owned by Peninsula Open Space Trust), Castro Valley Ranch (where there is a trail easement already) and Mt. Madonna County Park.