The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County’s biggest fundraising campaign ever aims to raise $43 million to protect farmland and wildlife and build new trails.
by Jessica Lyons Hardcastle
Nov. 12, 2015—The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County’s huge new campaign sounds like it could be the opening line of a joke: a puma, a hiker, a farmer and a bicyclist walk into a bar…
But it’s a pretty serious deal.
In the biggest fundraising effort of the organization’s history, last month the Land Trust launched The Great Land and Trail Campaign. It’s a major undertaking that aims to raise $43 million for four seemingly disparate projects: build new trails for hiking, biking and equestrian use; protect farmland; build a wildlife tunnel under Highway 17; and build the Coastal Rail Trail. (Register for All About The Rail Trail, a free Land Trust-sponsored forum about the Coastal Rail Trail on Dec. 8.)
Stephen Slade, deputy director of the Land Trust, says these efforts are not so different after all.
“They’re all about protecting land and wildlife and providing access—in other words, protecting what makes Santa Cruz County special as a refuge for people and wildlife,” he says.
Reaching the $43 million mark by January 2017 will be a major feat. In comparison, Land Trust’s next biggest fundraising campaign was in 2011-12, and it raised $13.5 million.
“This is huge,” says Calah Pasley, communications and membership director. “We kept taking on projects that we felt were really important, and that’s the number where we landed. At the end it came down to: let’s be really ambitious. We’re really excited, and I think the community is really excited as well.”
The “we” Pasley’s referring to is the Land Trust board, which has seen a historic shift in its approach to protecting Santa Cruz County. This is evident not only in The Great Land and Trail Campaign, but also in the board’s latest five-year strategic plan, approved in July.
This new approach is all about providing access and giving people the opportunity to enjoy the land that they help protect.
“Instead of keeping people out, we think it’s important to get people on the land,” Pasley says. “It engages people because they can see what they are helping to protect and build for our county.”
The fundraising drive aims to raise $20 million in private funds and another $23 million in foundation and government grants. Of the $20 million that will come from community donations, the allotment for the four projects breaks down like this:
• $7 million to build more than 45 miles of new trails. This includes 38 miles of loop trails and view trails (21 miles for biking and 17 miles for hiking and horseback riding) at San Vicente Redwoods. It also includes five miles of trails through the Watsonville Slough Farm and three miles of trails through the Glenwood Open Space Preserve in Scotts Valley.
• $1.5 million to permanently protect farmland and water supplies. The Land Trust’s effort to protect farmland has been ongoing since 2007. This involves acquiring conservation easements from landowners to protect more than 400 acres of farmland in the Pajaro Valley and looking into the possibility of turning College Lake into a recharge and water storage facility.
• $6.5 million to build a wildlife tunnel for mountain lions and other animals under Highway 17, and protect other wildlands. Last year the Land Trust protected 290 acres east of Laurel Curve. It still needs to secure an easement to protect the final 170 acres of wildlife land on the western side of the tunnel—and work with Caltrans to build the tunnel. It also aims to protect another 1,140 aces of wildlands.
• $5 million to build the Coastal Rail Trail, a 32-mile paved bike and pedestrian path along the rail line from Davenport to Watsonville. The Rail Trail’s path will run within a mile of 45 schools, 92 parks and half the county’s population.
Donors can “choose your favorite,” designating how Land Trust will divvy up their dollars between the four projects, or “love them all.”
“If you want to support the rail trail, support the rail trail,” Slade says. “If you don’t, don’t. We are giving donors the choice of which campaigns to support, which, to my knowledge, is a unique approach to a capital campaign.”
Then again, a fundraising effort that aims to raise $43 million for people and pumas, bicycles and broccoli, in about 14 months is nothing if not unique.
Learn more about the Great Land and Trail Campaign and choose your favorite—or love 'em all—at the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County website.