HIKING, HORSES AND A VIEW Grant used to purchase 681 acres for new park south of Carmel

Monterey Herald


Monterey Peninsula residents strode a step closer to having a "hiker's paradise" in their back yard with a grant last week from the California Coastal Conservancy.

The $12.2 million grant, to the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District, will help buy a 681-acre chunk of the Palo Corona Ranch just south of Carmel. Eventually the entire 10,000-acre ranch, which extends along a 10-mile ridge from the mouth of Carmel Valley south to the Los Padres National Forest, will be administered as a park under joint management by the regional park district and the state.

That means the public will have access to a previously private property that was never developed and is, by all accounts, among the most scenic and pristine parts of the Central Coast. It also means that it will be spared from future development.

"It'll be a hiker's paradise," Corey Brown, executive director of the Big Sur Land Trust, said Friday. "It's one of the most spectacular properties I've ever seen. It's a major part of the natural beauty of the Monterey Peninsula, and some of the richest wildlife habitats in California."

The Big Sur Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy bought the Palo Corona Ranch for $37 million last May from Seattle telecommunications tycoon Craig McCaw. A week later, Gov. Gray Davis announced that the state would commit $32 million toward buying the property from the two nonprofit groups. The Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District is putting up the other $5 million.

Last week's grant goes toward the purchase of the northern part of the ranch, and officials say public access to that should begin later this year with the help of an additional $50,000 grant from the Coastal Conservancy for an interim public access plan while the details are worked out for the management of the entire ranch.

The "Front Ranch," as the portion is called, is on the first rise of the Santa Lucia range that broods over the Big Sur coast. The entire Palo Corona Ranch extends along the Santa Lucia range for 10 miles, varying in elevation from near sea level to more than 3,000 feet.

The ranch includes a variety of habitats, including about 1,000 acres of redwood forests, as well as Monterey pine forests, maritime chaparral, oak woodlands and freshwater springs and ponds.

The Palo Corona Ranch is also a strategic link joining 12 other properties already protected by public and nonprofit agencies, including Garrapata State Park, Point Lobos State Reserve, the Ventana Wilderness and the Mitteldorf Preserve, in a "contiguous wildland corridor," Brown said.

The southern section of the ranch, purchased with a grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, will be managed by the state Department of Fish and Game, and the middle part will be managed by either the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District or California State Parks.

The various agencies will work out agreements on park rules so that "the public can access it seamlessly," said Tim Jenson, special projects manager for the regional park district. The cooperation of agencies involved in the purchase, preservation and management of the ranch as parkland is a model that is "significant not only for Monterey County but for all of California," Jenson said.

Anticipated uses will be horseback riding, hiking and possibly some bicycling areas, Jenson said.

Some 30 miles of existing ranch roads will form "one of world's best trail systems through one of California's most spectacular lands," said the land trust's Brown.


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