Trail Closure

At Kirby Park, the accessible trail remains closed due to storm damage.

Porter Ranch Hero
Porter Ranch

Porter Ranch

A historic ranch with unique native grasslands

A Piece of California History

The Porter Ranch is a unique property on many levels. Its rich coastal prairie was never developed and now hosts one of the only healthy populations of the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant. Its chain of title stretches back to General Mariano Vallejo, a member of the California Constitutional Convention and an early State Senator. And the beautiful wetlands of Porter marsh contain the headwaters of Elkhorn Slough.

40+species of wildflowers
~120year-old house & barn
25+grazing cattle

With support from The Nature Conservancy, the Porter family.

Cattle for Conservation

While grazing in places like the Amazon rainforest is understandably bad for the environment, grasslands like those at Porter Ranch require frequent disturbance such as grazing or fire to stay healthy. Thanks to decades of continuous grazing, this ranch hosts some of the highest quality coastal prairie in our region—a habitat of which more than 95% has been lost in California. 

Many rare and endangered plants thrive at Porter Ranch, and the hills are often splashed with the colors of springtime blooms. Native animals including deer, hawks, eagles, bluebirds, ground squirrels, and butterflies depend on these healthy grasslands for their survival. Other animals such as coyotes and bobcats are often seen on the property as well. The mix of coastal prairie with oak woodland, freshwater wetland, and tidal marsh means that Porter Ranch is one of ESF’s most biodiverse properties.

Porter Ranch Cattle


Year Acquired




Special Habitats

oak woodland, coastal-terrace prairie, freshwater wetland


Santa Cruz tarplant, creeping wild rye, cattle

Topo lines Follow Us

Before: A Legacy of Land Protection

In 1976, after more than 100 years of ownership by the Porter family, Bernice Porter and her daughter Diane Cooley agreed to gift the Porter Ranch to The Nature Conservancy. 

Bernice and Diane were both instrumental in the effort to protect Elkhorn Slough and the Pajaro Valley. They valued the wild nature and agricultural richness of the region. Diane later became a longtime member of ESF’s Board of Directors, and she remained a valuable member of the Land Committee well into her 90s. 

After years of planning and successful management by ESF, The Nature Conservancy transferred their slough landholdings to ESF ownership in 2012. Porter Ranch continues to be an active cattle ranch and a site for education and stewardship, as Bernice and Diane intended. 

Porter Ranch Before
Porters 1940

After: Preserving the Ranch in Perpetuity

Anyone who has owned or worked at a historic property will know that it can require huge amounts of time and resources to manage. In 2019, ESF began work on restoring the more than 120-year-old farmhouse at the heart of Porter Ranch. This involved rebuilding the foundation, constructing new decks, demolishing the old kitchen and bathroom, and more. While this work was not cheap or easy, it was necessary to prevent the house from becoming uninhabitable and unsafe to visit. 

Future phases will build an ADA-accessible entrance and bathroom, add a kitchen suitable for hosting special events, and restore the classical gardens surrounding the house. Our vision is for the farmhouse to become a vibrant center for community events, field trips, and educational activities. Other recent activity at the ranch includes upgraded cattle fencing to better protect Porter Marsh, a solar power system on the barn, and new landscaping of native plants and trees.

Porter Ranch field with lupine, oaks and cows
Porter Ranch After tarplant blooming
Paul Zaretsky 194
Porter Ranch CTA

Photo by Paul Zaretsky

Keep Elkhorn Wild

Give today to preserve the lands and waters of Elkhorn Slough for future generations.

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