Homestake Mining Company was once Lowerlake’s biggest employer with over 300 employees churning out 250,000 ounces of the precious metal annually. When Homestake axed its mining operation at McLaughlin Mine in 1996, it spelled the end of 200 jobs and an 11-year reign as California’s most productive gold mine. The 105 remaining employees spent their time sifting the 14 million tons of stockpiled ore that had already been unearthed, which was finished sometime in 2003. From 1985 to 2002, Homestake Mining Co. extracted $1 billion worth of gold from the desolate landscape above Lake Berryessa. For a time, the McLaughlin Mine was the biggest producer in California and one of the largest in the world. Homestake is in the process of decommissioning its open-pit gold mine which includes extensive reclamation of disturbed lands. The Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Reserve is the repository of over 20 years of environmental monitoring data collected by Homestake.
The Donald and Sylvia McLaughlin Natural Reserve is one of few sites in California that protects unusual serpentine habitats. Chemically hostile to most plants, serpentine deposits cover one third of the reserve, creating islands that support rare and endemic plants, which have adapted to these harsh soils, and numerous associated endemic insects. Where there are non-serpentine soils, the vegetation shifts suddenly to more typical coast range habitats, including riparian woodland, blue oak woodland and savannah, grassland, and chaparral. The reserve and adjacent lands are owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the Homestake Mining Company.
Location: Napa, Lake, and Yolo Counties, northwest of Davis, two hours from Davis campus
Size: 7,050 acres (2,853 ha)
Elevation: 1,200-2,400 ft (366-732 m)
The nature reserve is only open on a reservation basis. Guided nature walks are available. The surrounding area is the Knoxville BLM land which has a wide range of outdoor opportunities.
Morgan Valley Road runs south from Lowerlake. It is paved and open year round. The Knoxville Berryessa Road is also paved but is subject to closures. It runs north from Lake Berryessa.
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