Non-profit helps preserve local land

April 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A small chunk of private farmland in the South Bay is now on its way to becoming a public park, thanks to the efforts of a Bay Area land trust.

The real estate deal that closed on Thursday is the work of Peninsula Open Space Trust -- a private non-profit that's helped preserve thousands of acres of undeveloped land.

Clark Canyon Ranch sits just minutes west of Gilroy. It was a walnut farm when Burt and Veda Clark bought it in the 1940's.

They owned Clark's Jewelry in downtown Gilroy, and never harvested the nuts, but they loved the land.

"My uncle came home one day and said, 'Veda, I bought a ranch' and that's how she found out," said former landowner John Toth.

The Clarks' nephew John Toth grew up exploring every nook and cranny of the 408-acre spread.

"My uncle loved to hunt and my aunt loved to paint so she'd make a lot of paintings of the ranch and they'd take their picnic lunch and go up the canyon and sit by the creek," said Toth.

What was the Clarks' private playground will now be public.

The Clarks had no children, so the nieces and nephews inherited the property. They hated the thought of it being developed, and found a solution in the Peninsula Open Space Trust, or POST.

"We're like the opposite of developers. We're the undevelopers," said Audrey Rust from POST.

Audrey Rust is the president of POST. She says the ranch was appealing not just for its beauty and diversity of wildlife.

But also because it connects with the existing Mount Madonna County Park.

POST paid $2.9 million dollars for the 408-acre property -- every penny from donations.

"We have trouble raising money. We have very ambitious goals raising money , having just completed a $200-million dollar campaign so yes, we do have trouble because we set the bar so high," said Rust.

POST has preserved 60,000 acres in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties over the last 31 years.

As a private non-profit, POST can partner with government agencies to help stretch the public dollar. That's the case at Blair Ranch, just up the road from Clark Canyon Ranch.

The Santa Clara County Open Space Authority was eyeing the 865-acre cattle ranch for its historic value, natural beauty and the border it shares with the existing 3,100-acre Rancho Canada del Oro Park.

But the authority is a government agency, and couldn't come up with the $8.5 million dollars needed to buy it.

POST helped engineer the financing, and the sale closed last month. The Santa Clara Open Space Authority now owns it.

In two to three years, hikers, bikers and equestrians will enjoy the views once seen only by the cowboys and the cows.

"It's our hope that we can provide a little bit of the past here in the form of living history as it relates to a ranching environment," said Patrick Congdon from Open Space Authority.

Another ranch in POST's sights is Mindego Hill. The purchase price for the 1,047 acres near La Honda is $29.4 million dollars.

POST gives these pins in the shape of a local tick to donors. Rust explains why.

"We say we want your time, we want your money, and we want your blood," said Audrey Rust.

In return, you'll get some awesome views.


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