Open space is Land Trust’s mission

1,773-acre Bruin Ranch on the Bear River is latest acquisition
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
Just yards away from office buildings and an eatery, you can amble along a trail shaded by tall trees, sit on a bench and watch the birds or stop on a wooden bridge to listen to the soothing sounds of a stream. You may spot a skunk or even a deer — visitors from the nearby American River Canyon. The Auburn School Park Preserve on High Street is one of the numerous sites where the Placer Land Trust’s efforts are in evidence. “(The park) is owned by the city, but the land trust holds the conservation easement on it,” executive director Jeff Darlington said Monday. “We see that it is always protected as a community park.” The land trust was created in 1991, initially as one organization with the Placer Nature Center. During the early years, the goal was getting the nature center established. Then in 2002, as the nature center flourished, the land trust became a separate nonprofit, with Darlington at the helm. “(Since then), it has been doing very well focusing on land preservation,” he said. From 78 acres protected during the first 10 years, the trust had preserved 7,171 acres by the end of 2010. The most recent acquisition, and the largest, is the 1,773-acre Bruin Ranch on the Bear River. “We’ll be having a dedication for that property (now known as Harvego Bear River Preserve) on April 22 — Earth Day,” Darlington said. “We’re making a big deal out of it because it is also (the land trust’s) 20th anniversary.” The Bruin Ranch property connects to an additional 1,700 acres already preserved. “On this entire block of protected lands, we’re planning and developing trails for public use,” he said. “Nothing is complete yet, but we’re in the process of planning or building trails. We’re hoping to have more public recreation opportunities in the next one-to-five years.” The trust’s scope encompasses all of Placer County. “There are a number of preserves and easements in the American River Canyon,” Darlington said. “That has traditionally been an area of focus for us. It is arguably the county’s most beautiful natural area.” The land trust has had easements on Jean Labadie’s Newcastle farm and wetlands since 1999. “We had a 10-acre parcel that wasn’t buildable and it seemed like a good thing for (the land trust) to preserve,” she said. Since then, she has added two more 10-acre parcels. As a landowner partner, Labadie said she appreciates the work of the nonprofit. “It certainly preserves land that might go to housing,” she said. “It preserves space for future generations to enjoy.” In 2004, the organization acquired property along Interstate 80 at Cisco Grove, “which we purchased and then transferred to Placer County to make it a public park,” Darlington said. “It’s called Cisco Grove Gould Park. It’s open 24/7, although right now it is completely buried in snow.” Then, in 2005, came the addition of more than 1,000 acres of vernal pool grasslands in the western part of the county. “That was three different preserves in the Roseville and Lincoln areas,” Darlington said. A key part of acquiring the land is working with willing landowners. “We don’t go out and tell landowners their land needs to be protected,” he said. “By working with willing landowners, we are opportunistic. When landowners come to us, we evaluate the properties and see what public value will be obtained by protecting it. It could be agriculture, recreation, protection of species or habitat, watershed lands or scenic open space that keeps our community beautiful.” The trust either purchases the land or it is donated or sold at a bargain rate. “That can either be the whole property, or we get a conservation easement,” he explained. “A conservation easement is a perpetual agreement between landowners and the trust that permanently prohibits development or other harmful land uses.” The trust is supported through individual and business memberships, as well as grants from public and private sources. Other funds come from mitigation fees from developers. “Bruin Ranch received a $5 million grant from the county, which was huge and a portion of that was mitigation funds,” Darlington said. Membership has grown from 11 in 2002 to about 500. The trust employs four full-time employees and one part-time plus three interns. “Two staff members and one intern are dedicated to land stewardship, managing the lands and also going out and monitoring the easements,” he said. “Those need to be monitored at least once a year and up to four times. Their job is to make sure the public benefit acquired in these projects is protected and, if possible, improved. Enhancements could be trails to clearing the land for fuel load reduction to reduce fire danger. If we have time and money, we want to make these properties even better.” The trust recently established the Natural Wonders Forever endowment fund at the Placer Community Foundation, with an initial gift of $100,000. “This endowment fund will grow over time with investments from the trust and from community members,” Darlington said in a press release. As it moves forward, the trust is looking at potential properties on the Bear River and the American River. There’s also a lot of interest in preserving family farms. “We’re hoping,” he said. “It’s really hard to get funding for agriculture preservation, but we’re really trying to protect the agriculture in the county. With the PlacerGrown movement, we have a lot of unique agriculture history here and it would be a shame if it went away.” Darlington is hoping to finalize one family farm project this year. “The Natural Trading Company is one project where we partnered with Placer County in 2009,” he said. “The county holds the easement and we contributed funds to the acquisition.” Reach Gloria Young at ------------ Upcoming Placer Land Trust events • Earth Day dedication of Harvego Bear River Preserve (formerly known as Bruin Ranch), 2 to 6 p.m. Friday, April 22, free admission • Blue & Green Ball 20th anniversary celebration, 6 to 10 p.m., Saturday, May 14, Blue Goose Fruit Shed, Loomis. Tickets are $40 for members and $50 for non-members. • Treasured Landscape Tours will be held Saturday, May 21, at Big Hill and Saturday, June 18, at Oest Ranch Lake Clementine. Cost is $10 for members and $15 for non-members • Docent-led tours of the Harvego Bear River Preserve will be held on the first Saturday of each month May through September. Free admission For more information, see