Point Reyes Field Institute operates classes at many different locations throughout the Seashore. As the primary non-profit partner of the park we have access to some amazing facilities that would otherwise be off limits to the general public.

The Ranch House

by James Freed

The Ranch House was built in 1923 by John Rapp, son of one of San Francisco’s most prominent beer producers before the company was shut down during Prohibition. It was designed as a “magnificent country home” with an eye for entertaining and as a summer residence for his family. It was part of the much larger “W” or Bear Valley Ranch, a premium dairy ranch which later became a beef cattle ranch. It was remodeled by owner George Compton in the 1940s. From the 1960s through the late 1990s, the Ranch House was used by the National Park Service (NPS) as an employee residence.

In February 1998, the Point Reyes National Seashore Association offices moved in after a severe winter storm flooded their prior offices which were located in the basement of the Park Administration building. The South wing houses the Education Programs including Field Institute and the East Wing houses Development, Membership, Business Office and the Executive Directors office.The ‘living room’ is now the classroom/conference room that is used by the Seashore Association and the Park Service for board and staff meetings during the week. On the weekends, it is used by the Field Institute for day-long classes. The facility provides an ample working area along with a deck over looking Bear Valley. 

The Morgan Horse ranch is loated next to the Ranch House and was a National Park Service breeding and training facility for Morgan horses used in National Parks in the Western Region. The Park Service is no longer breeding and training horses here, but trains and houses the horses used in this park for trail maintenance, patrol and rescue operations. There is one full-time park employee on staff and many volunteers who help with the care of the horses that live here.There are interpretive exhibits at the ranch and the volunteers are usually happy to answer questions about the horses. 

Red Barn Classroom

Originally it was a hay barn built circa 1870, and remodeled in 1944. It is part of the “W” or “Bear Valley Ranch.” The Red Barn retains its size and shape and much of what appears to be the original interior framing. The siding and roof were replaced and a concrete foundation built under the barn. It was unpainted at the turn of the century, and from about 1920 to the 1950s it was painted white. By the time the park purchased Bear Valley Ranch in 1964, the barn had been painted red. In the 1906 earthquake, one corner of the barn shifted where the ground ruptured and moved 16 feet.

Renovations, completed in 2002, transformed this historic structure from mainly a storage facility for the National Park Service to a multi-function, renewed structure. Funded by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association and acquired grants and donations, the building now contains a modern library and museum collection facility, offices for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a meeting room/classroom for park projects, and for Field Institute classes and environmental education programs for schools.

The Red Barn is used mainly for one-day classes. Classes at the facility usually begin with a lecture and slide presentation, which may last for most of the day (for photo seminars) or for just an hour or so (for birding and natural history classes). After presenting the lecture, the instructor advises students where to meet in the field. Some instructors conduct the field portion in the Bear Valley area, while others have participants travel to other locations in the park. 

Historic Lifeboat Station at Chimney Rock

The Point Reyes Lifeboat Station is a National Historic Landmark. It is the last remaining example of a rail launched lifeboat station that was common on the Pacific coast. Located on Drakes Bay at Chimney Rock, the Lifeboat Station was built in 1927 by the U.S. Coast Guard and contained the crew’s quarters, a large boat bay, and a marine railway system for launching a 36-foot life boat. 

The Field Institute offers some weekend classes at the Lifeboat Station where participants will get the opportunity to spend the night and conduct classes in the historic structure. The ground floor houses the boat bay where a renovated motor boat is housed. A fully equipped kitchen is located downstairs and adjacent to the boat bay with a large refrigerator and a commercial oven and range. One of the benefits of the Field Institute classes are the very popular Saturday night potluck dinners where participants can talk about the day of learning and adventure while sampling dishes provided by their peers. There is also a small reading/meeting room just off the kitchen. 

The heated sleeping quarters, furnished with bunk beds and mattresses, are located on the second floor, along with two gender-specific bathrooms with hot showers. Although we try to provide the best experience possible for our participants we do ask that people bring their own pillows and sleeping bags to place atop the mattresses.

The area around the Lifeboat Station is used by the Marine Mammal Center as a release site for rehabilitated wildlife. While staying here some classes are unexpectedly treated to the release of an otter or harbor seal.

Clem Miller Environmental Education Center

The Clem Miller Environmental Education Center is nestled in a secluded valley two miles from Limantour Beach. The Center is designed as a model of ecological sustainability with composting, recycling, and waste monitoring practices, solar heated water, and photovoltaic modules providing electricity. Facilities include a large cedar lodge with dining room, library/science center, and commercial kitchen. Most meals and classroom teachings take place inside the main lodge. There is also a wood burning stove and sitting area to keep participants warm during the chilly winter evenings. 

Dotted throughout the open meadow are five spacious dormitory-style cabins, a bathhouse with hot showers, a large central meadow, and a campfire circle. The sleeping cabins are furnished with wooden bunk beds and mattresses but they are without heat, electricity, and water. To keep down the environmental impact of washing bed linens we ask participants to bring their own pillows and sleeping bags to place on top of the bunk mattresses while staying at this facility. 

The area, including the nearby Youth Hostel, was once the site of the Laguna Ranch, one of the three pioneer dairy ranches of the Steele brothers. It was a dairy ranch until the late 1930’s when the U.S Army leased the land and installed roads and barracks during the cold war. Some of the ranch buildings were kept after purchase by the National Park Service in 1971 and were used for the American Youth Hostel. The army quonset huts (in use as an environmental education camp since 1972) were torn down in 1986 and replaced by the present building. The Point Reyes National Seashore Association raised private funds for this building and donated it to the National Park Service. The newer “annex”  was built in 1996 to provide an office, two sleeping rooms for staff and an infirmary and laundry room. 

Point Reyes National Seashore

Encompassing more than 70,000 acres of rocky headlands, forested ridges, wide open sandy beaches, rolling grasslands and rich estuaries, Point Reyes National Seashore offers visitors an experience like no other. Situated on a peninsula, the park is geologically separated from the rest of Marin County and almost all of the continental United States by a rift zone of the San Andreas Fault, about half of which is sunk below sea level and forms Tomales Bay. The fact that the peninsula is on a different tectonic plate than the east shore of Tomales Bay produces a difference in soils and therefore, to some extent, a noticeable difference in vegetation.

These features allow the park to host over 1500 species of plants and animals including over 45% of the North American avian species and almost 18% of California’s plant species. Thirty-eight threatened and endangered species exist within the Seashore. The park itself is a national living treasure of natural and human history intertwined throughout the ages. 

A little more than an hour’s drive from over 7 million people living in the Bay Area, Point Reyes National Seashore is the closest and largest National Park in the region. Many visitors from the more urban areas around the park enjoy coming out for a weekend of fresh air and wild spaces. The park is a place where people can learn, relax and go on an adventure all without leaving the Bay Area.  

The Field Institute offers many classes and workshops out in these wild places to help people explore and connect with the land’s rich history, bountiful hillsides and waters teeming with life.  Whether you’re hiking through the Estero on a bird-watching expedition, roaming over the rolling hills of Pierce Point to catch a glimpse of the Tule Elk, or simply studying the vegetation to learn about local medicinal and edible plants, the Field Institute helps people connect.