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California Cheese Trail

 

Gallagher North Bend Ranch

Gallagher North Bend Ranch

330 ACRES MALT-PROTECTED SINCE 2016

save farms donate todayGallagher North Bend Ranch takes its name from the sweep of Lagunitas Creek as it skirts the foot of Marin’s iconic Black Mountain. For over a century, the Gallagher family has tended the fertile flatlands, pastures and woods that roll up from the south bank of the creek.

But for much of the last 20 years, the ranch's future was uncertain, as the Gallaghers – like so many agricultural families across the country – faced mounting pressure to sell the ranch to pay bills. "We thought we didn't have a chance of hanging on to it," says Paul Gallagher, who owns the ranch along with his brother, Kevin. "If not for MALT, the ranch would have to have been sold out of the family."

A long history

The Gallaghers have been fixtures of the tight-knit Point Reyes community for four generations. Edward Gallagher came to the United States from Ireland in the mid-19th century and traveled West in a covered wagon. He arrived in West Marin in the 1860s and, in 1893, purchased land along Lagunitas Creek to start a dairy. The family that owned the ranch in the 1880s built a fine Victorian home, which shook off of its foundations in the 1906 earthquake. The house was soon repaired, and is still standing today.

Another kind of rumbling was common in the early days of the Gallagher North Bend Ranch: The North Pacific Coast Railroad ran past the house on its daily trips between Sausalito and Cazadero. The ranch was even a flag stop called North Bend. “My dad remembered the day that Word War I ended.” recalls Paul. “He was five years old, and he knew it was over because the train came through blowing its whistle all the way down, celebrating the war ending."

Following World War II, Edward’s twin grandsons, George and Bob, returned to the family’s ranch and got the dairy back up and running. Bob operated the ranch until he passed in 2002. George served as the postmaster in Point Reyes Station for nearly 40 years, but he often helped his brother around the ranch. George’s sons, Kevin and Paul, inherited half of the ranch from their father, while Bob’s children inherited the other half. Today, Kevin lives on the ranch with his wife, Katy, and Paul and his wife, Deanna, live in nearby Point Reyes Station.

Big trees, clean water

Half of the ranch is grassland, currently leased to a local rancher for grazing cattle. The Gallaghers plan to lease another 18 acres of flat, fertile farmland to an organic farmer for fruit and vegetable crops. The rest of the property is a shady forest sheltering the north bend of Lagunitas Creek, which borders the ranch for nearly two miles.

Gallagher North Bend Ranch is part of an important regional wildlife corridor, a swath of undeveloped land that allows animals to travel more freely across their natural ranges in search of food, shelter and mates. Lagunitas Creek is a particular stronghold for regional biodiversity, harboring critical habitat for endangered coho salmon, steelhead trout and other aquatic species that thrive on clear, cold water. River otters, spotted owls and mountain lions are among the species that make their homes on this spectacularly diverse ranch. 

In jeopardy

Until it gained the protection of a MALT easement, the ranch’s fields and forests were at grave risk. Just an hour north of San Francisco, the scenic ranches around Point Reyes Station are frequently targeted for luxury estates. The Gallaghers’ ranch is situated along two main roads just a few minutes from town, and it backs right up to a national park, all of which made it especially attractive to real estate investors.

The Gallaghers at several turns had to put their family’s land up for sale as they sought a solution to the burdens of joint ownership. On the open market, this extraordinary property generated interest from non-agricultural buyers from as far away as New York, but the Gallaghers – not yet willing to let the ranch pass out of their family’s care and risk its conversion to a private estate – rejected several offers.

“It was a complicated situation,” acknowledged Paul. “A lot of times, when families need to buy each other out, there are disagreements or feuds. There was nothing like that here. Our cousins needed to sell, and we understood that, but we just wanted to find a way to keep the ranch in the family. There weren’t too many options until MALT came along.”

Protected forever

MALT arranged the purchase of an agricultural conservation easement on the property, which guarantees that the ranch will never be subdivided or developed, and that it must remain in agricultural use. Kevin, Katy, Paul and Deanna put proceeds from the sale of the easement toward purchasing their cousins’ share of the ranch.

“MALT has done a really great job working with us,” said Paul. He noted that his cousins stood to make more money by selling on the open market, but opted to sell an easement to MALT instead. “As good a job as MALT has done, I think it’s amazing that my own family got on board. They could have easily just said no. Our cousins helped us out, and we’re thankful to them.”

Now that the ranch’s future is secure, the Gallaghers have begun to repair fences, barns and other structures around the property. Paul, Deanna, Kevin and Katy are relieved to know that their ranch will continue to support Marin’s agricultural community forever.

“We’re just happy that we were able to hold on to the ranch and keep it in the family,” said Paul. “We thought it was important that the ranch be kept working. Now we know that future generations will be able to enjoy it, and to start and grow something here too."

MALT was able to protect Gallagher North Bend Ranch with grants from the California State Coastal Conservancy, the Marin County Farmland Preservation Program, California’s new Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program and generous donations from MALT supporters. 

View a slideshow of photos from Gallagher North Bend Ranch »

Read the press release »