Environmental groups team up with Santa Cruz County to fund public safety and education at the 8,500-acre San Vicente Redwoods property, opening in 2018.
by Traci Hukill
Dec. 6, 2016—The Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved a three-year pilot program providing county park rangers for the privately owned San Vicente Redwoods, with three conservation nonprofits picking up the tab.
The program will employ a head ranger, a park ranger and up to eight seasonal assistants at an estimated three-year cost of $1.2 million to be shared by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Sempervirens Fund and the Peninsula Open Space Trust.
Initially the rangers, who will be unarmed, will patrol and protect natural resources on the 8,500-acre property, currently closed to the public. After it opens—sometime in early 2018, according to the current timeline—they will also help educate and engage with visitors, assist with trail maintenance and make emergency plans with neighboring agencies. They’ll oversee a corps of volunteers as well.
Supporters hailed the move as an innovative way to solve the issue of unmanaged open space.
“This is very innovative, that you have private entities—the nonprofits—paying for management and protection of resources on local lands so the public can use them,” says Jeff Gaffney, director of the Santa Cruz County parks department, which will administer the program. “This is about us as a county working together to solve our local problems as though we are all part of the family.”
“It’s a first step toward providing safe parks, both in terms of people’s physical safety and in terms of natural resources,” says Stephen Slade, executive director of the Land Trust. “It’s a county and conservation groups working together to create something new that the county has not had before to address the pressing issue of controlling harmful behavior in our parks.”
Some of those harmful behaviors, says Slade, include illegal camping and the associated fire risk, pot farming and methamphetamine manufacturing. Slade also lists off-trail mountain biking, which can cause erosion, as a cause for concern.
The Land Trust is finalizing a recreation access plan for the San Vicente Redwoods that includes 38 miles of new trails, 22 of them dedicated to mountain biking. The plan should be ready in early 2017, with permits taking another year or so. The Land Trust has sought to build challenging but ecologically designed mountain bike trails in large part to forestall illegal trail construction.
Watch a video about trailbuilding at San Vicente Redwoods
The San Vicente Redwoods property, purchased by a group of nonprofits in 2011 for $30 million, is owned by Sempervirens Fund and the Peninsula Open Space District. Save the Redwoods League manages the conservation easement on the land, and the Land Trust manages public access.
County Park Rangers for Other Santa Cruz Lands
Gaffney confirmed that the park ranger three-year program could be modified to include properties held by the San Lorenzo Valley Water District. The water district owns 1800 acres, including the 180-acre Olympia watershed, currently open only to equestrians by special agreement. If it wished to be included in the deal, SLVWD would join the three conservation nonprofits in paying for the rangers.
The San Vicente Redwoods’ neighboring 5,600-acre Coast Dairies property could also conceivably be folded into the pilot program. Currently owned by the Bureau of Land Management, the property is part of a statewide campaign to expand the California Coastal National Monument to include five land-based “gateways” (full disclosure: Hilltromper supports and is a media sponsor of the campaign for national monument status).
"If we can identify resources, we want to do our very best to protect these amazing natural areas as much as we can," says Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, who serves the North Coast area and is sponsoring the ranger proposal on the board of supervisors. "I think it’s a great example of a public-private partnership. It’s the way we solve a lot of our problems going forward."
The proposal penned by Coonerty’s office notes that “the agreement will have a duration of three years, with the option to extend, if mutually agreeable.”
Asked if the conservation groups are hoping the three-year program lays the groundwork for an open space district for Santa Cruz County, Slade replies, “It certainly is the kind of thing an open space funding measure would help address. But that process is still in its toddler stage.”