Cooperation can feel like a rare event these days. But when the future of one of Mono County’s most iconic panoramas was in question, true cross-agency teamwork and innovative thinking led to real action — and success.
By partnering with Mono County, Caltrans, California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Eastern Sierra Land Trust has helped create a conservation easement and management plan that keeps Conway Ranch wild and scenic, and working to benefit our local economy for generations to come.
Treasured by Families and Wildlife
Looking down on Mono Lake from the viewpoint just below Conway Summit, Eastern Sierra residents and visitors alike marvel at the picturesque expanse of Conway Ranch.
Comprised of two distinct properties — the Conway and Mattly Ranches, which are sometimes referred to collectively as ìConway Ranchî — the large stretch of open space and agricultural land northwest of Mono Lake is one of the most beloved landscapes in the Eastern Sierra region.
Its significant wetlands, springs, and irrigated meadows are critical to supporting wildlife. The Mono Lake mule deer herd migrates twice a year through the property on the way to and from its winter range in Nevada and summer grazing lands in the High Sierra. Conway Ranch also provides the perfect mix of habitats for the rare greater sage-grouse. In addition, the property’s freshwater springs and wet meadows are important breeding and nesting grounds for a wide variety of waterfowl and shorebirds.
Conway Ranch’s Historic Roots
Once an important stop along Native American trade routes, in the 1870s settlers created lush pastures at Conway Ranch by diverting water from nearby creeks to raise livestock and vegetables to feed hungry miners in Bodie. The Conway family bought the property in 1903 and some of the original homestead and ranch buildings still stand to this day.
Commercial fish rearing has also occurred on the property in raceways and ponds for more than 30 years, and has proven to be an important economic resource for Mono County.
Finding Permanent Conservation Solutions
In the early 1990s, Conway Ranch was the focus of an approved large-scale housing and resort development. Recognizing what was at stake, Mono County worked with The Trust for Public Land to purchase the property from the developer with grant funds awarded by Caltrans, California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks), and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. These grants were designed to protect the natural, open space, scenic, historic, and public access values of the property, while allowing for the continuation of certain existing uses, including fish-rearing and grazing.
Several years ago, discussions between Caltrans and Mono County about current and future uses of the property resulted in agreement to lift Caltrans grant restrictions on a 75-acre portion of the property to allow for enhanced aquaculture infrastructure, such as a hatchery, while clarifying protections on the rest of the property.
So Mono County and Caltrans partnered with ESLT to implement an innovative solution. With a conservation easement at Conway Ranch, we have ensured that the property’s natural and historic resources are maintained, while also creating the flexibility for Mono County to develop a sustainable fish-rearing facility. And by working with the original grantors to incorporate their restrictions into the conservation easement, we have been able to create a new management plan that will allow Conway Ranch to continue to benefit our community long into the future.
This unusual example of cross-agency cooperation ensures that future generations will be able to enjoy the unique and beautiful vistas, wildlife, open spaces, and history of Conway Ranch forever.
Plan Your Visit
Because Conway Ranch is owned by Mono County, it is open to the public. There are certain rules in place that Mono County asks all visitors to follow:
- Entering the licensed fish-rearing facilities and fishing area is prohibited without permission from the County or its authorized agents, employees, contractors, lessees, or licensees.
- No campfires, portable stoves, or any other type of fire anywhere on the property.
- Shooting, firing, or otherwise discharging a firearm is prohibited within the licensed fish-rearing and fishing area, in addition to anywhere within 150 yards of the north, northeastern, and western boundaries of that licensed area.
- Removing, defacing, or damaging any form of real or personal property (including but not limited to: buildings and fixtures, fences, wood, plants, or artifacts) is prohibited.
- Do not drive or ride a vehicle (including bicycles) except on existing roads and parking areas. Note: this does not apply to over-the-snow vehicles.