From Nuclear Plant to National Monument: the History of Cotoni-Coast Dairies

May 9, 2022
An overview of Cotoni-Coast Dairies' rich history.

The magnificent Central California coastline now known as the Cotoni-Coast Dairies Unit of the California Coastal National Monument has a rich history that includes its original inhabitants, European settlers, Swiss dairymen, and even a potential nuclear power plant.

You probably already know that for thousands of years, the verdant marine terraces, rolling prairies, and redwood canyons were home to the Cotoni (Cho-toe-knee) tribe of the Coastanoan people. But did you know that a Nevada developer once eyed the land for McMansion ranchettes on the coast? Or how in the late 1960s PG&E had an option to buy 6,800 acres — including much of what makes up CCD today— two miles north of Davenport where it wanted to build a nuclear power plant?

Keep reading and you’ll learn more about Cotoni-Coast Dairies and what was thankfully never developed there. Then get ready to enjoy what is coming soon—19 miles of brand new trails for public enjoyment. And find out how you can help.

Throughout history, Cotoni-Coast Dairies has been valued for its beauty and natural resources. The diverse topography includes redwood forests, oak woodlands, and coastal grasslands. It’s home to rare and protected species like steelhead, red-legged frogs, and mountain lions. With six watersheds and a patchwork of beautiful and biologically rich ecosystems, the 5,800 acres include riparian canyons, coastal terraces, and mountain ridgelines that made it vital for inhabitants and attractive over the years for industrial exploitation.

Abundant resources made the land an ideal home to the Cotoni tribe, who lived from the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, north to Año Nuevo Creek, and east as far as Bonny Doon Ridge, according to a 2001 study by Environmental Science Associates for the Coast Dairies Long-Term Resource Protection and Use Plan. Plants bearing edible seeds and/or leafy greens were plentiful. Four Native archaeological sites have been documented on Cotoni-Coast Dairies but only about 100 acres have been surveyed so far.

There are no doubt many more archaeological significant sites. The land will always play an important role for the descendants of the Cotoni tribe, and sites of cultural importance will be honored as the land is opened to public access. Cotoni descendants with the Amah-Mutsun Land Trust (AMLT) are working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to identify Native archaeological sites so they can be respected in trail plans and honored in interpretive materials onsite. AMLT will continue to practice traditional ceremonies and stewardship on the property, and pulled together this list of cultural resources located on the property.

After Spanish colonization, the land was largely used for dairy production. By the 1850s, a dairy practice that’s been called the North Coast Model had developed: herds of cows grazing across the terrace and hills, with a dairy tucked down in each coastal valley, beside a stream and out of the wind.

Coast Dairies & Land Company, incorporated in 1901, owned the property and operated a Swiss dairy farm until the 1960s, when attention turned to development. Cattle ranchers will continue to lease portions of CCD from the BLM so it will remain a bovine paradise even after being opened to the public.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the property’s future was uncertain. PG&E quietly approached Coast Dairies and negotiated an option to purchase about 6,800 acres with the intent to build a nuclear power plant on El Jarro Point on the terrace north of Davenport. PG&E was forced to disclose its plans in 1970 when word started to get around. After a public outcry the plans were dropped.

In the 1990s, a Nevada developer revealed plans to buy the property, divide it into 139 “ranchettes” and sell them for high-end coastal homes. Environmentalists quickly took notice and, in 1998, in a cooperative effort with Save the Redwoods League, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Trust for Public Land, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, and the Nature Conservancy, the Coast Dairies Property was purchased from Nevada & Pacific Coast Land.

In 2006, the Trust for Public Land transferred a 650-acre parcel (beaches included) on the coastal side of Highway 1 to California State Parks. State Parks turned the area into agricultural land, and continues to sublease portions to farmers. In 2014, the Trust transferred approximately 5,800 acres on the inland side of Highway 1 to the BLM for protection and ongoing management. That’s the area that will be opened to the public next year.

The BLM renamed it Cotoni-Coast Dairies to honor the land’s indigenous inhabitants and previous owners. The land received National Monument status in 2017. The BLM began collaborating with local land owners, residents, and other stakeholders to outline a public access plan.

Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Stewardship got involved around this time, and since then has conducted community outreach and hosted events to advocate for a robust, responsible, and sustainable trail network.

The final access plan was approved in June 2021, and this past December we broke ground on the first 19 miles of 27 planned miles of trails.

Helping to open a National Monument to the public is truly a once-in-a-lifetime project, and we feel honored to be out in the field on this beautiful and important property every day.

The hard work isn’t over just yet. We need to raise nearly $3 million to build all the trails we have planned, and are only about a third of the way towards our goal. Help us keep shovels in the dirt by contributing today to Timeless Trails, our fundraising campaign. We plan to open the first 19 miles by the end of 2022, but that will only happen with robust community support.

CCD has had a long, rich history. You can help us bring this magnificent land into its next chapter—public enjoyment, appreciation, and reverence—with your contribution today.


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