Posted on July 10, 2022
| 12:54 p.m.

Ventura Land Trust received $7.2 million from the State of California to complete the acquisition and permanent preservation of the 1,645-acre property in the hills of Ventura, now known as the Mariano Rancho Preserve.

Mariano Rancho Preserve provides a spectacular backdrop to historic downtown and downtown Ventura with the area’s most prominent hills. The eastern edge of the Mariano Rancho Preserve contains one of the famous “Two Trees”. The western corner of the property is adjacent to Grant Park Ventura, home to the Ventura Botanical Gardens.

With the acquisition of Mariano Rancho Preserve, Ventura Land Trust comes full circle to why the organization, originally the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy, was established in 2003: to preserve and protect the hills that define the Ventura landscape.

The ecological restoration of the Mariano Rancho Preserve will support the recovery of the endangered Coastal Sage scrub plant community and preserve an open space corridor essential for the movement and survival of wildlife in the area. The scenic property is part of a county-designated wildlife corridor that connects the Ventura River watershed to the Santa Clara River watershed.

For Melissa Baffa, Executive Director of Ventura Land Trust, the funding is a game-changer for land conservation for Ventura Land Trust and for Ventura County.

“We are deeply honored by the state’s support of our open space conservation work in the Ventura Hills,” Baffa said. “Preserving and restoring these lands will be a tremendous gift to the wildlife that depends on these habitats.

“It’s exciting to have this kind of multigenerational 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 Assemblyman Steve Bennett has been the primary advocate for the allocation of state funds to the Ventura Land Trust for land acquisition, stewardship and infrastructure for access to public reserves.

“The State of California’s investment in Ventura Land Trust’s acquisition efforts will provide residents with tremendous outdoor recreational value for generations to come,” Bennett said. “I am proud to associate myself with them and with the senator [Monique] Limón to obtain these funds.

Bennett, a longtime champion of open space conservation in the region, co-authored the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) initiatives that slow urban sprawl by requiring a citizen vote before belt areas green areas outside Ventura County towns may be rezoned for development. The first SOAR initiative was endorsed by voters in the city of Ventura in 1995.

Although county residents should celebrate the preservation of this open space, Baffa warns that Mariano Rancho Preserve is not yet open to the public.

“The southern edge of the property is adjacent to residential neighborhoods with narrow streets. There is no public parking available to access the reserve from these neighborhoods,” she said. “Additional visitors and traffic could prevent residents and emergency vehicles from moving freely and safely on 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 focus on the long-term conservation and stewardship of the land.

“This funding will secure Ventura Land Trust’s ability to preserve open space for public access on literally thousands of acres,” said Board Chairman Mark Watkins. “We are so grateful to the State of California, our local state officials, and the tremendous support of this community in making the dream of a permanently protected open space come true.”

In the coming months, Ventura Land Trust will commission a concept trail plan for the property. The trail network will provide preserved access for hikers and cyclists, while minimizing the impact on plant and wildlife habitats. A parking enclosure at the trailhead 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 reserve, with topics on public access, conservation and land restoration, as well as trails and recreation. The public is invited to attend. Meeting dates, times and locations will be posted on the Ventura Land Trust website.

Additionally, a portion of state funding will support the Harmon Canyon Preserve fundraising campaign. The campaign is expected to wrap up by the end of the year. Donors who contribute a donation of $1,000 or more to the Harmon Canyon campaign by Nov. 1 will be recognized on an on-site donor wall installed near the main trailhead of the reserve. The metal art installation will be designed by Ventura artist Tyronne McGrath.

Ventura Land Trust is a privately funded, non-profit organization, not a government entity or part of any city or county parks department. Individual membership in the Ventura Land Trust, which provides grassroots support to help protect and preserve open spaces, advance habitat restoration efforts and fund outdoor education programs, begins at $45 per year.

Mariano Rancho Preserve conservation information and updates are available at www.venturalandtrust.org.