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Final fundraising push kicks off this week for unique nature preserve in hills east of Ventura

 The Harmon Canyon Preserve protects more than 2100 acres of what was once ranchland in the hills east of Ventura.
The Harmon Canyon Preserve protects more than 2100 acres of what was once ranchland in the hills east of Ventura.

The Harmon Canyon Preserve permanently protects more than 2100 acres of land. The Ventura Land Trust is trying to raise the final million of the $11.6 million program.

Birds are chirping, and bees buzzing on a hillside that’s covered with bright yellow flowers, and a smattering of stately coastal oak trees.

It feels like a remote wilderness area, but it’s just 15 minutes by car from downtown Ventura. It’s the Harmon Canyon Preserve.

A decade long effort by the Ventura Land Trust led to the purchase, and preservation of more than 2100 acres of land in the hills of eastern Ventura.

Preserve Director Daniel Hulst says the habitat includes coastal sage scrub, coastal oaks, and wildflowers.

The longtime ranch land has been a preserve for less than two years, but is a popular spot for hikers, runners, and cyclists.

The non-profit land trust pieced together government and private grants, donations, and a gift from the family which owned the longtime ranch land to buy the property. The land trust is launching a push this week to raise the final dollars to have the resources to manage the preserve forever. The campaign had an overall goal of $11.6 million, and it is trying to raise the final million for an endowment, and to help add some trails.

Melissa Baffa is Executive Director of the Ventura Land Trust. She talks about the uniqueness of the land.

"I'm a biologist, so I find this land very special because we get to preserve this space for wildlife," said Baffa. But, she says the human impacts are just as important. "We making a promise we are protecting this land forever."

The entrance to the preserve is on Foothill Road, near its intersection with Kimball Road. You have to look for the parking lot, which is near the entrance to a church. There are some easy trails, but if you are ambitious you can climb up hills with spectacular views reaching from the ocean to Santa Paula. It’s free to visit, with the preserve open during daylight hours.

The trust is doing a balancing act, preserving and protecting the land, while also making it available to the community for things like hiking.

Leslie Velez is the Land Trust’s Outreach Director.

"I think we're historically a beached-focused community," said Velez. "Now that people are allowed to come into this front country... it's a whole new experience."

It’s green and lush now, but virtually all of the preserve was burned by Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties massive 2017 Thomas wildfire. There are still some charred trees.

Hulst says a priority is helping the coastal oak population, through trimming damaged trees and planting new ones.

You can find out more about visiting the Harmon Canyon Preserve, and its final fundraising efforts here.

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.