208 Acres of Open Space to Be Preserved
Spurred by encroaching development and soaring land prices, conservationists announced Wednesday the purchase of 208 acres of open space as part of an effort to protect the natural boundaries of east Los Angeles County.
The Trust for Public Land purchased for $3.3 million three tracts in north La Verne and turned them over to that city. The money came from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and Los Angeles County.
“We’re fighting a race against time, triggered by explosive growth in the Inland Empire,” said Reed Holderman, executive director of the trust, a national nonprofit group that serves as a broker between private landowners and government agencies. “With the public protection of this land, we are one step closer to winning the race.”
The trust’s long-term goal is to double the size of 679-acre Marshall Canyon Regional Park, to the east of the three tracts, and create a natural link between the neighboring Angeles National Forest and Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, officials said. The land is home to several threatened species, including long-eared owls, falcons, golden eagles, Cooper’s hawks and mountain quails.
La Verne Mayor Jon Blickenstaff said the land purchase, which was completed last week, will not only help protect wildlife habitat and undeveloped acreage but provide more recreational activities for residents, including hiking, biking and horseback riding.
“Open space is getting harder to find and set aside,” he said. “And this was a wonderful opportunity to take one big chunk of land and add it to the forestry.”
At the forefront of the fight to protect the wilderness corridor is Katherine Winsor, a La Verne resident whose family moved to the area 10 years ago because they loved the backcountry. Winsor’s yard opens up to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and provides a panoramic view of its rugged peaks.
Visitors are not uncommon.
“We’ve seen bobcats, bears sitting on our fence, and lots of deer,” said Winsor, a 48-year-old mother of three and an environmental consultant. “It’s a neat interface between us and the Angeles National Forest.”
So when Winsor learned of a developer’s plans to build 42 homes on adjacent land, she founded the La Verne Land Conservancy in 2002 to help campaign for open-space protection. Her conservancy activities included writing grant applications and persuading property owners to sell their land.
Winsor is credited with helping to obtain $6.6 million in parkland funding from the state and county, with half of that used to purchase the 208 acres. The remaining grant money has been set aside for future acquisitions.
For her work, Winsor has been lauded by city officials and conservation groups. But she does not consider herself an activist.
“I’m not really a tree hugger,” she said. “I’m a Republican, and my husband works for an oil company. I’m just a mom that has an environmental heart.”
The San Gabriel Mountains, which straddle L.A. and San Bernardino counties, form a natural boundary between the region’s ever-expanding urban development and the Mojave Desert.
Planning expert Bill Fulton praised conservationists for aggressively seeking to acquire more parkland before it is swallowed up by development. He said developing a wilderness corridor would help provide a buffer against wildfires while protecting hillside views.
“As demand for new housing increases, developers are looking at open spaces in the San Gabriel foothills as prime real estate,” Fulton said in a statement. “The Trust for Public Land and their local partners are smart to act now to preserve this critical open-space corridor.”
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