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A win for nature! New South Coast preserve permanently protects more than 1600 acres of land

The 1600 acre plus Mariano Rancho Preserve protects more than 1600 acres of land just north of Ventura.
Ventura Land Trust
The Mariano Rancho Preserve protects more than 1600 acres of land just north of Ventura.

State funding will pay off Ventura Land Trust's remaining debt for Mariano Rancho Preserve

We’re in a pickup truck traveling up a narrow road to the crest of a hilltop just north of Ventura. It’s so narrow, and the slopes are so steep it would make a goat nervous. But the views are spectacular.

It's Ventura County’s newest nature preserve. The 1600 acre Mariano Rancho Preserve is made up of steep hills and canyons just a few minutes from Downtown Ventura.

Developers wanted to build homes on the land for years. But, Ventura voters rejected the plans, setting the stage for its eventual sale.

Melissa Baffa is Executive Director of the Ventura Land Trust. Efforts to save this property, and some other land above Ventura nearly two decades ago led to creation of what is now the non-profit Land Trust.

The Trust bought the property in 2020 for $4 million, but still owes $1.4 million on the loan. Then, a State Assemblyman serving Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties stepped up in a big way. After seeing the situation, Democratic Assemblyman Steve Bennett of Ventura introduced legislation to set aside $7.2 million for Ventura hillsides land conservation.

The Mariano Rancho Preserve has incrfedible views of much of Western Ventura County.
Ventura Land Trust
The Mariano Rancho Preserve has incrfedible views of much of Western Ventura County.

The bill passed, and was signed by the governor. It not only pays off the loan, it also covers debt related to the Trust’s 2100 acre Harmon Preserve.

The property runs west to east in the hills above Ventura. The western edge is up next to Ventura’s Grant Park, and the eastern edge goes to a hill that’s home to one of the landmarks known as “Two Trees."

The property is only accessible through steep hillside roads… too much for a casual hiker.

"This will all be kept as a preserve," said Baffa. "It will be similar to Harmon Canyon, it will be open to the public for free."

But, because the hills are so steep, it won't be a good place for casual hikers.

"It's going to be a difference than Harmon Canyon...because of its steepness, it's going to be more challenging... it's going to be for that person who really wants to get their sweat on," said Baffa.

But the views are breathtaking.

Baffa says the priority has been preserving the land. Getting the land ready for some recreational uses will take time.

"We are planning on working through this process during the next two to three years." said Baffa. "We don't have a firm timeline."

First on the list is working with adjacent landowners to figure out access.

The Land Trust is planning to hold community meetings starting later this year to get the public’s ideas on the future of the preserve.

"We want to do this right," said Leslie Velez, the Land Trust’s Outreach Director. She says they want to preserve and protect the land, while welcoming in the public.

Another part of the equation is restoring the 1600 acres of land. The property burned during the 2017 Thomas Fire. The first plants to make a comeback on the property are mostly invasive, non-native species.

Removing them is a project which could take decades. But, the good news is with the land purchased and protected from development, it will be there for eventual restoration.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.