State of California and Monterey Regional Parks chip in to buy a big chunk of Big Sur.
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Photo by Brett Wilbur; Bill Leahy of the Nature Conservancy and Corey Brown of the Big Sur Land Trust helped put together a deal that resulted in 10,000 acres of newly protected land.
Corey Brown, executive director of the Big Sur Land Trust, is cruising south on Highway One with Bill Leahy, program director of the Nature Conservancy. It''s been a little over a week since the two finessed a deal to protect 10,000 acres of prime Central Coast property, and two days since Gov. Gray Davis chipped in $32 million in state money from newly passed Proposition 40 to help swing it. Today''s a good day to explore California''s new baby, the Palo Corona Ranch: 10,000 acres of wildflowers, redwood groves, pine forests, creeks, ocean views and wildlife habitat.
Brown turns the Mercury Mountaineer left shortly after passing Carmel''s Crossroads Shopping Village and punches in a code to open the gate to the ranch. The rocky dirt road bucks the men as they pass an old barn, one of only two structures-built by homesteaders-on the entire property. As the SUV climbs up the narrow road, Brown takes on the role of tour guide, pointing out views of the Carmel Hills, agricultural fields and Point Lobos.
"This property is the gateway to Big Sur," Brown intones. "It''s also the most important link in preserving this magnificent and internationally renowned coastal treasure." His earnest awe of the piece of land is justified. Even minus the ocean view, the property is spectacular and wild. A bobcat darts in front of the car and runs off into the native grasses, while red-winged blackbirds perform Disney-like swoops overhead.
"Cue the bear," laughs Leahy, and launches into a complaint about the consistency of a Power Bar that Brown''s given him. Brown indicates areas in the cliff wall that have been quarried for the Carmel stone used, legend has it, to build the Carmel Mission.
Leahy, a bird expert, points out quail, breeding finches and violet green swallows as the SUV pulls over at Inspiration Point, an aptly named lookout site with far-reaching coastal views. It suddenly feels like the middle of nowhere, but it''s just minutes from Safeway.
Though Brown, an attorney, says that the former owner, Craig McCaw, was very cooperative in giving the Big Sur Land Trust (BSLT) priority to purchase the ranch, it took a year of wheeling and dealing to obtain the eight properties that make up Palo Corona Ranch. McCaw first had the property listed on the open market-advertised on the cover of Monterey Peninsula HOMES magazine at $65 million.
The final purchase price, which BSLT and the Nature Conservancy secured with interim loans, was a veritable bargain at $37 million. Besides the state''s $32 million contribution, $5 million is being kicked in by the Monterey Regional Parks District. As the funds come in, the various groups are entering the planning process, deciding who exactly will steward what and what type of public access will be created.
Possibilities include linking up a planned ridgeline trail on the property to a statewide coastal trail down to Mexico. Together with 13 already protected properties, Palo Corona creates a 70-mile corridor of preserved land in Big Sur.
The men hop back in their rig and continue on down the road, fording creeks, passing ponds, and marveling at the wide range of microclimates on the property.
"Preserving the riparian habitat is critical to wildlife like steelhead trout, and water quality," Brown says, referring to the 16 watersheds on the property.
Today 3,000-foot Palo Corona Peak is hidden in the clouds. Giant pink wild rhododendron poke out of a grove of redwood trees in the valley below. Native grasses in former cattle pasture billow with the foggy wind.
Down at another old building, Brown parks again and the men wander into a redwood grove. A wild turkey gobbles offscreen. Brown and Leahy stop and wonder at what might be the world''s largest Monterey Pine, a gnarly beast with a redwood-sized trunk.
Something large crashes through the brush and Leahy darts off to look for it. Brown chooses to stay tight and gaze at the huge trees above him. "It''s a cathedral of redwood trees," he says reverently.
Leahy returns, unsuccessful, from the hunt. After two hours, it''s time to re-enter civilization, and get back into cell phone range.
On the way back, the men reflect on the process that kept this land and neighboring land such as Point Lobos Ranch from becoming condos and McMansions.
"The California Conservancy program is-and I hate to use this word-on the cutting edge," Leahy says. "We are using new techniques for conservation, building partnerships with groups like BSLT."
As the homes of Carmel re-enter the view, Leahy stops to answer a cell phone call from Brown''s office.
"Sorry, Margie," he says. "The bear got Corey. I''m coming out alone."