2023 Conservation Deal of the Year Rana Creek Ranch

2023 Conservation Deal of the Year Rana Creek Ranch

By Corinne Gaffner Garcia


COASTAL RANGE. Elevations vary from 900 feet above sea level to more than 3,400 feet on the Carmel Valley ranch.

Published On: June 19, 20242.9 min read
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 When former Apple chairman Mike ­Markkula and his wife, Linda, toured Rana Creek Ranch in 1982, they were the first and the last to see it. “We bought it on the spot,” he remarked in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2016.

And after visiting the property in 2022, Frazier Haney, executive ­director of the Wildlands Conservancy, could relate to the exact same sentiment. The conservancy put together the first official offer on Rana Creek and acquired the ranch in 2023 for $35 million, with plans to turn it into a nature preserve.

Traditional Home of Esselen Tribe

As the single largest private holding in Carmel Valley, the 14,142-acre property was once a part of the traditional homeland of the Esselen Tribe of Monterey County. It features rolling hills, lush forests, wide-open meadows, and multiple water sources. The Markkulas added more than 6,000 acres to their original acquisition. Under their stewardship, the woodland habitat and native plants were nurtured and thrived.

Rana Creek Ranch had been on and off the market since 2013 and was listed for as much as $60 million. When Bill McDavid of Hall and Hall co-listed the property with Pete Clark of Clark Company for $37.5 million in 2021, he knew just the person to call.

“I instantly thought it would be a good fit for the Wildlands Conservancy,” he says, explaining that he had recently helped the conservancy acquire Dean Witter’s 26,600-acre Lone Pine Ranch featuring the Grand Canyon of the Eel River. “I loved how that transaction went. It was a win-win, and the family was so happy to see it go into preservation.”

It turns out that Markkula harbored a similar sentiment. “Mike really liked the idea of others being able to access the land like he did,” McDavid says.

The Wildlands Conservancy

The Wildlands Conservancy has been hunting for top-tier conservation properties since 2020 when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal waters by 2030. A hefty budget has been set aside to support the bold initiative, and “the state was looking for big projects,” Haney explains.

Rana Creek Ranch proved to be a perfect fit. “It’s like going back in time, historically and ecologically. The wildflower displays and oak forests — it’s big enough to be one of California’s state parks,” Haney says. “Beyond the ecological value, we always have to think about how it can serve the people; can people come experience nature here and can kids take advantage of it?”

Additional Funding Partners

The sale closed on July 28, 2023. Funding included $24 million from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, $2 million from the State Coastal Conservancy, $2.5 million from the Wildlands Conservancy, and a $6.5 million loan from the Markkulas. Opening the preserve to the public will take some time, Haney says, as they “try to build facilities that are on par with the National Park Service.” There are also plans to turn the 9,000-square-foot ­conference complex built by the Markkulas into a land-stewardship institute.

The conservancy also plans to partner with the Esselen Tribe and tap into their deep knowledge to steward this remarkable property for future generations. Eventually, a portion of Rana Creek Ranch will be transferred to the tribe when the ­property is owned outright.

Published in The Land Report Spring 2024.

DAY’S END. Oak trees stud the entire property and provide critical habitat for numerous species.

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