A Heronry is saved, development is halted and ACR is born: The Martin Griffin Preserve
It was the early 1960s, and the political climate of Marin County was pro-growth. A 503-acre dairy ranch was being subdivided for development. The redwood grove where herons and egrets nest was to be logged. The lagoon where they feed was to be dredged and developed as a marina, and a four-lane freeway was to be built between the nesting site and feeding ground.
Then-president of the Marin Audubon Society Dr. Martin 'Marty' Griffin, Jr. became aware of the pending development and asked for a meeting with the owner of the property known as Canyon Ranch, which included the nesting grove of redwood trees. Marin Audubon's objective was to investigate purchasing the property. With the help of many dedicated individuals—including Aileen Pierson and Stan Picher—and the other local Audubon Society chapters, a grassroots fundraising campaign was waged. The land was purchased, saving it from development and the heronry from ruin.
A long history of land preservation had begun. In 1962, Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) was formally created as a locally-based independent nonprofit organization, and the Bolinas Lagoon Preserve (later renamed Martin Griffin Preserve) became its first preserve. Soon thereafter 500 more acres were acquired, forming today's 1,000-acre Martin Griffin Preserve of ACR.
The story of a group of committed individuals making a difference is an inspiring one. To read more about Marty and his story, visit Marty's Page.
The Bouverie Preserve
David Bouverie, a London-architect-turned-Sonoma-County-landowner, cared deeply for his land and was enthusiastic about ACR's education programs. He wanted his property to be used to educate and inspire children to appreciate nature. The education programs that had taught thousands of schoolchildren at the Martin Griffin Preserve were duplicated at the Bouverie Preserve, and soon Bay Area students and trained Bouverie Docents were walking the trails and studying native plants and animals.
When David passed away in 1994, ownership of the 500-acre Bouverie Preserve—known for its wildflowers, oak woodlands and creek canyon—was transferred to ACR in a planned giving arrangement.
David's love of nature inspired the docents who continue in his footsteps and the thousands of schoolchildren and families who hike on his beloved land.
The Cypress Grove Research Center
With hundreds of acres successfully preserved in perpetuity in southern coastal Marin County, ACR leadership became interested in conserving land along Tomales Bay. Marty Griffin approached landowner Clifford Conly to discuss his property on the northeastern edge of the bay. Clifford became impressed with ACR's efforts to protect important tidelands along the bay, and a relationship began.
During a 1976 interview, Clifford stated his intention to leave his beautiful shoreline property to Audubon Canyon Ranch for its conservation science programs and to be preserved in perpetuity.
“I think there lies in the future the possibility for educational purposes here," he said. "It’s nice to think that, rather than having a house torn down and a lot of little condominiums put up, a little historic house will remain and will be savored by future generations.”
In 1992, Clifford completed his gift and Cypress Grove Research Center became the headquarters for ACR's conservation science programs.
The Modini Preserve
The rugged spine of mountains running north of Mount St. Helena is the split between Lake County to the east and Sonoma County to the west. It is home to black bears and mountain lions, rare plants that grow in the harshest conditions, numerous species of birds, natural springs, and dramatic waterfalls. This is also home to the Modini Preserve, ACR’s fourth and largest nature preserve.
Two properties acquired separately came together to form the 3,370-acre Modini Preserve. In 2009, Audubon Canyon Ranch entered into a collaborative agreement with ranchers Jim and Shirley Modini to acquire the 1,725-acre Modini Ranch. This wild jewel in the mountains had been lovingly tended by the family since 1857, and came to ACR in 2013 as the Modini Ingalls Ecological Preserve. Just prior, in May 2012, ACR acquired the adjacent 1,620-acre Mayacamas Mountains Audubon Sanctuary from the National Audubon Society.
The two properties are now collectively known as the Modini Preserve. Audubon Canyon Ranch is honored to permanently protect this large tract of natural habitat for native wildlife and plant species to thrive, provide community access to a portion of the the Mayacamas Mountain Sanctuary property, and fulfill the vision of stewardship that is embodied by Jim and Shirley Modini.
As Jim Modini said:
“Maybe if younger people hear about what we have tried to do here, they will be inspired to help us save a place for the animals, too. There is so much development, and you can’t put that back. But up here, with our ranch surrounded by other protected lands, the wildlife has a chance.”
The Next 50 Years
In January 2010, ACR hired its second executive director, J. Scott Feierabend, as long-time executive director Skip Schwartz transitioned to a part-time role and ultimately retired from ACR. During his tenure, Scott updated the ACR Strategic Plan to better focus and guide ACR's programs, completed acquisition of the Modini Mayacamas Preserves, which increased ACR’s Preserve system by 3,000 acres, initiated a three-year program to restore and “green” ACR’s facilities, and implemented improved fiscal accountability and operational procedures that will serve ACR well into the future.
In 2014, ACR appointed John Petersen as executive director. An accomplished scientist and non-profit manager with a strong record of leadership, John joined ACR in 1987 with a Master's Degree in Biology from Sonoma State University. Prior to being appointed executive director, John served as ACR's chief operating officer for five years.
Upon John's retirement in early 2021, Nils Warnock, Ph.D., ACR's Director of Conservation Science was appointed Interim Exectutive Director while a board-directed executive search is underway. From 2010-2018, Nils served as the executive director of Audubon Alaska and a vice president of the National Audubon Society. His career began in West Marin at Point Blue, where he was the co-director of the Wetlands Division from 2000-2008.
Built on a history of commitment to land preservation and the community that makes it happen, ACR is well positioned to advance the organization's mission with confidence and enthusiasm into the next 50 years . . . and beyond.