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Drive about four miles north of the town of Jenner on Highway 1 and all that open space on the east side of the highway that you’ve just passed is the Jenner Headlands. Or, is it, ‘are’ the Jenner Headlands?

In any case, in a year or two, there will be a small parking area, restrooms and trailhead, and ways for you to pull over, park and hike into the 5,630 areas of open space that looks down over the Pacific Ocean. For now, the only access is through guided hikes with the groups that are maintaining the space. In the last couple of years, more than 1,700 people have participated in about 80 hikes. I went last weekend and I can see the appeal.

For starters, the coastal grasslands that hug the highway are just the start of a diverse terrain and represent about a quarter of the property. Not too far in are some newer redwoods, Douglas firs, oaks and more than 600 different types of plants. The combination of coastal winds and exposure has kept the property in a fairly lush state and not in the dire-brown condition that some other hills now are facing. The property was bought by us taxpayers in 2009 (well, Sonoma County taxpayers paid a quarter of the $36 million tab). Before that, three timber operators shared the land and continually harvested the crop, so to speak.

Our group hiked a little less than five miles, with only gradual elevation changes throughout, as we just stayed in the part of the open space that is closest to the highway. In total, the headlands stretch out a bit, backing into both Duncan’s Mills and Jenner proper, with some limited access points in both towns.

In addition to the diverse flora, the property’s streams make it a conducive home for steelhead trout, badgers (one of only a handful of spots in Sonoma County where they will be found), coyotes, and more. We only saw cows, jackrabbit and a gopher (I think) snake, but there were plenty of signs of other animal life in abundance.

When the property is open to the public, the plan is for there to be campsites, mountain biking and horse-friendly trails and more. Its trail network will also include a short segment of the California Coastal Trail. The half-complete 1,200 mile span now follows Highway 1 itself for much of its route through Sonoma County so this will allow trail hikers to leave the road on the highway’s east side as they trek north (or south).

For more on the Jenner Headlands, check out the Sonoma Land Trust, which plays an active role in maintaining the property and readying it for public access, along with LandPaths. ¬†I’ve mentioned both groups before, and a third one is also involved in this endeavor, the Wildlands Conservancy. I wasn’t familiar with that group or its work, but learning a bit more about it, I’m impressed.


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