The Early History of Point Reyes

point reyes
Photo courtesy of the Anne T. Kent California Room / Marin County Free Library

THIS IS THE Bear Valley Trail. It’s arguably the most popular trail in Marin’s Point Reyes National Seashore, wending for 8.4 tranquil and scenic miles from park headquarters to the Pacific Ocean. Many buildings in today’s headquarters complex are holdovers from the erstwhile Bear Valley Ranch. From 1943 to 1949, Eugene Compton ran it as a dairy farm, often staging rodeos in the arena pictured at right in the above 1948 photo. The federal government began showing interest in the Point Reyes peninsula becoming a national park in 1935; in 1958, Corte Madera’s Clem Miller was elected to Congress, and shortly thereafter he introduced legislation creating Point Reyes National Seashore, which President John F. Kennedy signed into law Sept. 13, 1962. Tragically, within a month, Miller died in a plane crash, and soon it became obvious the federal purchase of the Point Reyes property was drastically underfunded. Enter Marin Supervisor Peter Behr, who with Miller’s widow Katherine rallied support for adequate funding, collecting more than 450,000 petition signatures (twice Marin’s population at the time). California Gov. Ronald Reagan joined the effort, and eventually a once-reluctant President Richard M. Nixon released funds necessary to complete the purchase. On Sept. 16, 1972, Point Reyes National Seashore was officially established by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In all, the transformation cost $56 million, and the park encompasses slightly over 71,000 acres.