Sonora Union High School District Board of Trustees is expected to talk about the land swap at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sonora High School, 100 School St., Sonora, (209) 533-8510.

About 30 people rallied at Wildcat Ranch Saturday morning to protest a proposal to trade the ranch for 22 acres adjacent to Sonora High School.

Though their intentions for participation in the rally may have varied, they all agreed that land owned by the school district — intended by history and current policy for student agriculture programs — should remain that way.

The land should not be used for the recreation facility proposed by The Park Foundation, which would include a stadium, various sports facilities, running trails, food purveyors and trees on more than 100 acres of the land, they said.

Rally organizer Robin Walters of Project Feed our Kids in Sonora said the county needs a vocational, student-training ground in agriculture and other skills.

“This is about our kids. This is about agriculture and learning trades,” she said. “A sports facility is great but not every student can use that.”

Walters had made a presentation to a district advisory committee tasked with considering if Wildcat Ranch should be surplus property, which would allow it to be sold. In her presentation, she proposed a vocational center, which would include a three-story, 50,000-square-foot log lodge, a performing arts center, a working country store and a restaurant.

Children from kindergarten through 12th grade would be educated by adult staff in agriculture and other vocations in a reproduction western town, she said during the presentation.

Walters acknowledged that her opposition to the Park Foundation proposal was tethered to her continuing goal to make the vocation center a reality, with a focus on the “original intent of the land” for agriculture.

And though far fewer people arrived for the rally than she had anticipated, the continual honks of passing cars was Walters’ confirmation that their presence there was making an impact.

“A few are mighty no matter what,” she said.

The Sonora Union High School District has until June 16 to agree to begin negotiations on the Park Foundation proposal, to exchange the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch property for two properties of little more than 22 total acres located behind Dunlavy Field plus an additional cash payment.

The valuation on tax rolls of the Wilson property adjacent to Sonora High School is just under $100,000. The ranch property has been valued by a Sonora appraisal company at $820,000.

A land exchange would not require that the Wildcat Ranch be designated surplus property.

Park Foundation President Ron Jacobs has argued that the land exchange would alleviate many of the district’s financial issues posed by the development of the Wildcat Ranch as an agricultural campus for the students, chiefly transportation.

The Wilson property would be the new, and local, site of the Sonora High School agriculture program, the Park Foundation has proposed.

The Wilson property is covered with trees, shrubbery, and a home built in 1954 that has been identified by the county as in a state of deterioration or neglect. The parcels are zoned as vacant.

Currently, about 15 of the 137 acres at the ranch is used the agriculture program. Many of the rally attendees on Saturday said the Wilson property would not be suitable as an ag location because of location and terrain, which is largely hilly.

During the rally, many of the protesters waved signs with slogans such as “Save the Ranch 4 Our Kids” toward passing cars. By noon about 30 people attended, including Tuolumne County District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt.

Their presence at the corner of Tuolumne and Wards Ferry Road generated some public interest, and word spread to Sonora High School ag teacher Stacy Ingalls, who said that a student feeding animals that morning had tipped her to the rally.

“I don’t want to see the ag students lose the opportunity that's here on the land. I don’t think any exchange is comparable to the limitless opportunities that are out here,” she said.

Ingalls said her students still fostered a dream of an ag program supported by the district, and would include large crop production, orchards, and livestock.

“It would happen, and it would be here if our hands had not been tied,” she said.

Doug DeSoto, 63, of Sonora, pulled off to the side of the road during the rally in his orange-red pickup truck and explained that he was a property owner, for about 10 years, of a parcel adjacent to the Wildcat Ranch.

DeSoto said he was not opposed to parks in the county, but since the land was zoned for agriculture, it should be utilized as a site to teach students skills of “self-reliance” that was most necessary to their upbringing.

“I think for me, a resident of Tuolumne County, keeping ag in the state is important, as well is in this county,” he said. “There’s this movement in the county that’s very lively.”

Years ago, he said, the site had been bucolic as grazing land for cattle and as a site of the ag program, but in recent years, frequent traffic in the area had become a danger.

Another man, Sonora-area general contractor Chuck LaKamp, proposed rezoning the strip of property along Tuolumne Road to allow for commercial properties that could be leased, but still owned by the Sonora Union High School district.

LaKamp said he was at the rally not “because it’s any benefit to me, but because it’s screwing over a bunch of kids.”

If the land was leased to commercial business, the property would still be owned by the district and would generate revenue, and could still allow for the ag program, he said.

“It should be developed for ag,” he said. “I have no objection to another park, but they don’t need to do it on ag land.”

LaKamp also disputed the valuation of the Wildcat Ranch, and said it should be valued at $1.4 million.

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