Rancho San Rafael, as the name implies, was once a working ranch. It began in the late 1890's with a cattle operation owned by the Pincolini brothers. The brothers used the land only for grazing and built no structures on the property.
The property was purchased about 1920 by Russell C. Jensen and his wife. The Jensens built the first buildings on the ranch. One of these structures, referred to as the ranch manager's house, is the building which now houses our Ranger offices.
The Visitor Center portion was added after the house was moved to its present location.
The Jensens operated a sheep ranch for a few years until Mr. Jensen was killed in an automobile accident near Truckee in 1925. Mrs. Jensen sold the ranch in 1935 to Dr. Raphael Herman, his brother Norman and sister-in-law Marianna Herman.
The Hermans developed the ranch as many people remember it. In fact, the ranch bears the name of Dr. Raphael Herman, although the spelling is different. The beautiful Main Ranch House along with many barns, sheds, corrals and other outbuildings were the base of operation on the Herman's cattle ranch.
Today, only the Main Ranch House and the original ranch house built by the Jensens remain.
After the deaths of Dr. Herman and his brother Norman, Mrs. Marianna Herman moved back to southern California and the land was leased for grazing. Mrs. Herman placed the property for sale in the mid-1970's. There was much interest in this beautiful property, one of the largest single owner parcels left in the Truckee Meadows. After much speculation as to the fate of this land, public sentiment emerged in favor of making the land a public park. The land had a high price tag, however, and in 1979 the State Public Employees Retirement System purchased the property. This action was taken to allow Washoe County the time to raise funds to buy the land from PERS and make the initial improvements for a park.
The public wholeheartedly embraced the idea of Rancho San Rafael becoming a park and in June 1979 passed a bond issue allowing Washoe County to purchase the land from PERS.
In the following months, many donations, grants and gifts were received to start the first phase of construction which included the playground, picnic areas, a restroom and a picnic shelter.
In the spring of 1994, Mr. William Thornton donated approximately 120 acres to the Washoe County Parks Foundation. In turn, the land was deeded to the Washoe County Parks & Recreation Department and incorporated into Rancho San Rafael. This property is located in the Evans Creek Canyon on the north side of the park.
In 1999, Washoe County Parks & Recreation traded 5 acres to University Family Fellowship Church for 47 acres in Keystone Canyon.
The park encompasses approximately 570 acres of pastureland and natural sage community features. About 25 acres is manicured turf and 80 acres is pasture.
Much of the land is as it was when the Pincolini brothers first saw it. Most of the land is on the north side of McCarran Boulevard where the Evans Creek drainage off Peavine Mountain supplies an intermittent water source to the wetland area to the north and to the pond located near the Great Basin Adventure.
The park is home to the May attractions which include the Wilbur D. May Museum, Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Briefly, Wilbur D. May was a resident of Reno for many years. He was a philanthropist as well as a rancher and world traveler. He left much of his collections from his many trips around the world to the people of Washoe County.
May had no connection to this ranch except that his collections are housed here. His ranch, the Double Diamond, now being developed, is located south of Reno on Rt. 395.
Besides the May Center, Rancho San Rafael Park offers picnic and outdoor recreation facilities for the community to enjoy.
For details about each of the facilities, please click on the appropriate links above or contact the park office for more information. Group Picnic Guidelines
These guidelines were developed for those responsible for coordinating group picnics at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. We hope these few regulations will assist you in having a successful event and also will help us in maintaining park resources for future generations.
Please leave picnic areas essentially as clean as you found them. All trash and litter should be put in trash receptacles; extra liners my be obtained from a Ranger if needed. Tables should be returned to their original locations. If grills need to be emptied of ashes during your event, please contact a Ranger. Never use trash receptacles for this purpose.
Turf is difficult to maintain in areas that receive high usage, especially in hot weather. Help us keep Rancho San Rafael green by not dumping ice on the grass (put it in ponds or ditches), by not tossing eggs, or painting markers of any kind on the lawns. Vehicles are not allowed on the turf at any time unless prior approval has been received from the Park Ranger. Dunk tanks, slip-n-slides, pinatas, confetti/glitter, helium, air and water balloons are NOT allowed. Air trampolines (bounce houses) will be allowed with prior approval. Please check with the Park Ranger prior to pounding anything into the turf as sprinkler lines and heads are easily damaged and costly to repair.
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