More public hikes on private Buttes lands
All hikes require pre-registration. They are generally from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and require you to bring your own food and water. For more information, mmfhikes@yahoo .com or 671-6116. For a complete list of hikes, visit www.middlemountain.org.
Nature Study-Brockman Canyon: Explore the depths of a secluded canyon area of the Buttes. Your guide will help you to see the details and learn about the natural elements that exists here. Cost is $35. This hike is challenging.
Wildflower Study: Spring rains cause the dry Buttes hillsides to turn into a verdant, colorful, wildflower garden. Bring your hand-lens and wildflower field guide. Bring food and water. Cost is $35. This hike is moderate.
Gentle Stroll: Take a leisurely stroll especially suited for casual walkers and nature lovers. Prepare for some moderate climbing and mostly uneven ground. There will likely be late wildflowers. Bring food and water. Cost is $35. This is an easy hike.
Ridge Ascent-Bragg Canyon: The Steidlmayer family hosts walks deep into the Sutter Buttes. This ascent will take you up the walls of the upper canyon; the route will vary. Only register for this hike if you are in top physical shape. Bring food and water. Limit is 15. Cost is $45.
Ridge Hike-East Shaeffer Ranch: The Shaeffer Family will host hikers on their ranch on the north side of the Buttes. Hikers will explore this ranch that has been in the same family since the 1860’s. Hikes will be on the east ridge, with possible views of North Butte and Peace Valley. Bring food and water. Cost is $35. This is a moderate hike.
From Native American grinding stones found in the rolling hills to rock walls built before barbed wire was created in the 1880s, the history of human interaction and land management in the Sutter Buttes is dynamic.
Thanks to cooperating property owners and a few avid naturalists, the public can enjoy the diverse terrain of the Sutter Buttes, including rocky and rugged cliffs and soft rolling grassy hills dotted with oak trees.
Most of the 50,000 to 60,000 acres that are considered the Sutter Buttes are privately owned by about 12 landowners.
The Middle Mountain Foundation, however, offers guided hikes on the property of cooperating landowners.
PHOTOS OF HIKE IN BUTTES
In 2003, the California Department of Parks and Recreation purchased about 1,800 acres in Peace Valley in the northern Buttes. That property is landlocked, surrounded by private property and landowners who are blocking public easements on their property.
In the early 1970s, the public’s access to the Sutter Buttes was extremely limited. When landowners on the Buttes became concerned about the potential for a state park, some thought that allowing public hikes on their private property would negate the state’s drive.
“My parents thought if we let people come and hike maybe there won’t be so much pressure to have a state park,” said Margit Sands, who owns 1,200-acre Dean Place, also known as Dean Ranch, in the Buttes.
Sands is concerned about public access at the state park for two reasons. She doesn’t want members of the public wandering onto private property, and secondly, she is concerned about the impact of unguided crowds.
“It’s more beneficial to the land to preserve it. It is better to keep the hikes guided,” said Sands.
Sands works closely with the Middle Mountain Foundation to allow hikes onto Dean Place, she has even served as the board president.
Walt Anderson, a founder of the Middle Mountain Foundation, was a student when a friend told him about the project of allowing public hikes on private land in the Buttes. He thought it provided interesting potential of public and private management. So, he flew out to the area and stayed for about a decade, leading hikes and helping to found the Middle Mountain Foundation.
Beyond offering general hikes, Middle Mountain has a program for surrounding schools.
Sands has about 20 trips for students on her schedule this year, on which between 60 and 90 students will come to the ranch and see the land and the cattle.
In addition, the Middle Mountain Foundation is a land trust focusing on getting easements. The project on the Buttes is to buy out development rights from landowners.
To do this, they come up with the value of the land and the value of the land if it could be developed. The idea is that foundation gives the landowner the difference between those two assessments, in perpetuity.
“If we buy the development rights, they can’t build houses,” said Hank Barkholz, a volunteer co-hiking guide with Middle Mountain.
Middle Mountain offers hikes between mid-October and April. The hikes generally cost $35, which covers the cost of liability insurance and to pay for repairs to roads leading into the private parcels.