Can you really celebrate the 10th anniversary of a major achievement if you’re only nine years and nine months into the decade? You bet you can, especially if you’re trying to coordinate the conflicting schedules for many influential people who want to commemorate together 10 years of monitored conservation on the 82,000-acre Hearst Ranch in San Simeon.
By the way, that deal also included State Parks’ acquisition of 13 miles of coastal land between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean.
Who cares if it was three months short of the actual anniversary. Party hearty, folks, and so they did. As Supervisor Bruce Gibson looked around the packed hall at the Hearst Dairy Barn on Friday, Nov. 7, he said, “It’s like a class reunion, only much better.”
The big crowd included ranchers, farmers, governmental VIPs and representatives of conservation nonprofits. Many attendees — such as former state Undersecretary of Resources Karen Scarborough and John Donnelly, now the executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Board — had been instrumental in the successful, six-year cobbling together of a $95 million conservation deal to sharply restrict future development on the 128-square-mile ranch.
The party’s host was Steve Hearst, the conservation deal’s stubbornly insistent instigator and quarterback (who’s also vice president and general manager of Hearst Corporation Western Properties and great-grandson of legendary media magnate William Randolph Hearst).
The hostess was Nita Vail, CEO of the California Rangeland Trust, the nonprofit group of “cowboy conservationists” that holds the Hearst easement and monitors the massive and diverse ranchland.
The event also was a gathering of Rangeland Trust board and advisory group members ... and may have included a few landowners who could be considering the conservation-easement route for their own properties.
The Hearst deal has been so successful at protecting the land in perpetuity while allowing agricultural commerce to continue, Vail said, that the ranch has become the largest privately owned working cattle ranch on the California coast and the nation’s largest single-source provider of grass-fed beef.
In the process, Vail said, the conservation effort “has become a national model … and has exceeded all our expectations.”
At the party, guests noshed on lavish appetizers, dined on a meal of herb-roasted, grass-fed Hearst beef, sipped Hearst wines and did some boot stompin’ to the music of Louis Ortega.
As had been requested on the event’s invitation, many people were in “western elegant” attire, which I learned has a wide range of interpretations. (I wore an embroidered western outfit and cowgirl earrings with heavy, dangling gold cowboy boots and hats. More about the latter later … )
There was lots of congratulatory backslapping, reminiscing, laughter and some misty eyes, the latter being most prominent when anybody mentioned two people who weren’t there but had been essential to the conservation accomplishment: rancher and chairman of the Hearst Corp. board George Hearst (Steve Hearst’s father), and Hearst attorney Roger Lyon of Cayucos.
They were missed, big time. Hearst died in 2012. Lyon was killed in 2010, as he flew a Flying Samaritans’ medical mission to Ensenada, Mexico.
Yes, attendees at the party were celebrating a major achievement, but many personal bonds had blossomed into a decade of friendship, shared experiences and caring.
Later, I benefited again from that culture of caring. After returning home, I discovered that a chunky gold boot had fallen off an earring. A little thing, yes, but sentimentally significant. Husband Richard had given me the charms more than 20 years ago, and they’re no longer available.
I knew the odds, but I’m a Pollyanna at heart. I emailed Steve, Nita and others, asking if the event’s staff could watch for the charm.
The next day, Steve’s email said simply, with caring, “We found it. We have it.”
Just imagine: A 1-inch charm, lost in a huge barnful of people, all shuffling about, reuniting, hugging, joking and dancing. Lighting was designed for atmosphere, not for seeking needles in haystacks.
But even so, kind, caring people had taken the time and made the effort to find something tiny that was of value to someone else. Hearst’s guest-services crewmembers are big-hearted detectives in disguise.
In such a high-powered setting, their discovery was amazing and heartwarming, and I’m forever grateful.
P.S.: Will this be our final word on the 10th anniversary of the Hearst Ranch conservation deal? Of course not. After all, Feb. 18, 2015, is only three months away.