Mountain Wins Reprieve, Will Remain Wild

Times Staff Writer

Volcan Mountain will continue to slumber undisturbed as it has through the centuries, thanks to a grass-roots effort by neighboring Julian residents and an assist from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

The 40-square-mile mountain northeast of Julian was threatened with urbanization on its pristine slopes when First Fruit, a Newport Beach-based philanthropic trust that owns the land, decided to subdivide its 219-acre holdings and build 16 estate homes high along Volcan’s ridges.

But this week, Mike Leach, project manager and consultant to the landowner, confirmed that First Fruit will drop its building plans and sell the land to San Diego County.

A ‘Difficult Project’


Leach, who has been involved in the proposed Volcan Mountain development from its inception in September, 1985, called it “one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, project I’ve been involved in.” And he’s been in the business more than 28 years.

Not only was the remote site a challenge, but the determined opposition of the Julian townsfolk to this, or any, urbanization of Volcan Mountain was also an even bigger obstacle.

Leach remembers one public meeting last year in Julian that attracted 110 citizens--"only about three of them in favor of the project.” After a lengthy discussion about the development, Leach recalled, he was taken aside by Julian resident Peter Bergstrom and told the facts of life about Julian people.

No matter how Leach tried, Bergstrom said then, Leach would never come up with a project that would win the hearts of the mountain community residents, Leach recalled. What Julian folk wanted was to keep Volcan Mountain untouched by human hands or machines, to keep it just as it is and has been for eons.


Leach said Bergstrom first asked if the landowner would sell the property if locals could come up with the money.

“I told him later that I thought it could be bought, but that we weren’t giving it away,” Leach said.

Hailed as Victory

Bergstrom hailed Thursday’s announcement as a victory for the Volcan Mountain Preserve Foundation, the group of Julian residents and environmentalists who had hoped to buy about 20,000 acres on Volcan Mountain for a permanent wilderness area.

But proceeds from bake sales, a country-bluegrass music festival, the sale of Volcan Mountain T-shirts and donations from well-wishers fell far short of the price for even that small chunk of the massive mountain.

Then, county officials stepped in, armed with funds from Proposition 70, the $770-million park bond issue approved by state voters last June.

Nancy Nieto of the county Department of Parks and Recreation said that acquisition is still months away. But, barring some unforeseen snafu, the First Fruit property should become a county park by year’s end, she said.

The department has $537,000 from the state bond funds and is authorized by the Board of Supervisors to seek an additional $38,000 to meet the seller’s price of $575,000.


Diane Barlow Coombs, aide to county Supervisor George Bailey, said that, without the state bond funds, Volcan Mountain would have soon been scarred by development and a half dozen other sites--including the San Dieguito River Valley, Tijuana River Valley, McGinty Mountain (south of Singing Hills Golf Course)--would have had little chance of remaining in their natural states.

Cutting Through ‘Red Tape’

For the Volcan Mountain acquisition, Coombs said, it was possible to “cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape” and shorten the process. For other park acquisitions, a long road lies ahead and may require funds from a proposed “Son of 70" park bond issue that the Legislature is now considering.

The county owns hundreds of acres of parkland that have been left in a natural state, Nieto said, and the Volcan Mountain site will probably be added to that list, showing how the county looked before it was tamed by man.

Volcan Mountain has a rich diversity. There are mountain lions and endangered spotted owls. There are dozens of sites of former Indian villages, ceremonial grounds and burial plots. There are ridges where the view extends into Arizona and forests where the pines grow tall and thick, blotting out the light.

As the Julian group’s fund-raiser T-shirt proclaimed: “Volcan Mountain . . . Not Your Ordinary Mountain.”