Press Release, issued July 8, 2022:
Ventura Land Trust Awarded $7.2 million for Ventura Hillsides Land Conservation
July 8, 2022
Ventura, CA – Ventura Land Trust has been awarded $7.2 million from the State of California to complete the acquisition and permanent conservation of the 1,645-acre Ventura hillsides property now known as Mariano Rancho Preserve.
Mariano Rancho Preserve provides a dramatic backdrop to historic downtown and midtown Ventura with the most high-profile hills in the region. The eastern edge of Mariano Rancho Preserve contains one of the famous “Two Trees.” The western corner of the property is adjacent to Ventura’s Grant Park, home to the Ventura Botanical Gardens.
With the acquisition of Mariano Rancho Preserve, Ventura Land Trust comes full circle to the reason the organization, originally Ventura Hillsides Conservancy, was established in 2003: to preserve and protect the hills that define Ventura’s landscape.
Ecological restoration of Mariano Rancho Preserve will support the recovery of the endangered coastal sage scrub plant community and safeguard a corridor of open space critical for wildlife movement and survival in the region. The scenic property is part of a county-designated wildlife corridor that connects the Ventura River watershed to the Santa Clara River watershed.
For Ventura Land Trust Executive Director Melissa Baffa, this funding is a game changer for land conservation in for Ventura Land Trust and for Ventura County.
"We are deeply honored by the State's support of our work to conserve open space in the Ventura hillsides,” says Baffa. “The preservation and restoration of this land will be a tremendous gift to the wildlife that depend on these habitats. It is thrilling to make this kind of multi-generational impact on a region, and Ventura Land Trust is grateful for the partnership of the State of California and our local legislators in these efforts."
California State Assemblymember Steve Bennett was the primary advocate for directing state funds to Ventura Land Trust for land acquisition, stewardship, and infrastructure for public preserve access.
“The State of California’s investment in the acquisition efforts of Ventura Land Trust will give residents enormous outside recreational value for many generations,” says Bennett. “I'm proud to partner with them and Senator [Monique] Limón in securing these funds.”
Bennett, a longtime champion for open space conservation in the region, co-authored the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) initiatives that slow urban sprawl by requiring a vote of the citizens before greenbelt areas outside of Ventura County cities can be rezoned for development. The first SOAR initiative was approved by voters in the City of Ventura in 1995.
Although county residents should celebrate the preservation of this open space, Baffa cautions that Mariano Rancho Preserve is not yet open to the public. “The southern property boundary is adjacent to residential neighborhoods with narrow streets. There is no public parking available for access to the preserve from those neighborhoods. Additional visitors and traffic could prevent residents and emergency vehicles from moving freely and safely through the streets.”
Ventura Land Trust will engage in a detailed two- to three-year planning process before opening Mariano Rancho Preserve to the public. The planning process will address the long-term conservation and stewardship of the land.
In the coming months, Ventura Land Trust will commission a conceptual trail plan for the property. The trail network will offer preserve access to hikers and cyclists, while minimizing the impact on plant and animal habitats. A trailhead parking enclosure will be constructed to accommodate visitors.
A series of community meetings will be scheduled for late summer and fall 2022. Each meeting will focus on an element of Ventura Land Trust’s planning for the preserve, with topics on public access, conservation and land restoration, and trails and recreation. The public is invited to attend. Meeting dates, times, and locations will be posted on Ventura Land Trust’s website.
Additionally, a portion of the State funding will support the capital campaign for Harmon Canyon Preserve. This campaign is expected to come to its conclusion by the end of the year. Donors who contribute a gift of $1,000 or more toward the Harmon Canyon Campaign by November 1, 2022 will be recognized on an onsite donor wall. The donor wall, to be installed near the preserve’s main trailhead, will be a metal art installation by Ventura artist Tyronne McGrath.
Despite the windfall of state funding, Ventura Land Trust is still in need of donations and community support for operations and stewardship of its conserved lands. Ventura Land Trust is a privately-funded nonprofit organization, not a government entity or part of a city or county parks department. Individual membership to Ventura Land Trust, which provides core support to help protect and preserve open space, advance habitat restoration efforts, and fund outdoor education programs, starts at $45 per year.
Board of Trustees President Mark Watkins feels that with nearly 4,000 acres of land in Ventura Land Trust’s care, gratitude to all stakeholders, including those whose vision for the protection of Ventura’s hillsides laid the groundwork for Mariano Rancho Preserve’s conservation nearly 20 years ago, is paramount.
“This funding will guarantee the ability of Ventura Land Trust to preserve open space for public access on literally thousands of acres,” says Watkins. “We are so thankful to the State of California, our local State representatives and the tremendous support from this community to make the dream of permanently protected open space come true.”
Be sure to watch the recordings of Mariano Rancho Community Meetings:
Questions? Contact Outreach Director Leslie Velez at [email protected] or (805) 643-8044.