Paso buys big parcel along the Salinas

Paso Robles bought its largest parcel to date along the Salinas River corridor this month as part of a long-term stewardship plan through the state.

Escrow closed last week on a 154-acre riverside plot on the southeast side of town — sold by the John Will family — for $1.5 million.

“This shifts the scales in terms of how the river now becomes mostly under public (ownership), whereas in 2009 it was shifted in the other direction,” said Assistant City Manager Meg Williamson, who is spearheading the project.

The 4-mile stretch of river land that runs through city limits has historically been a mixture of city and private ownership, she said, but now the taxpayers own about two-thirds of it.

The state backed the effort with a $4 million State River Parkway Grant awarded in 2007 that allowed the city to begin buying privately owned land within the corridor.

The city continues to look at other ways to buy additional plots.

Paso Robles was awarded the money to become long-term stewards for the river plots it could buy. The stewardship holds the city responsible for the Salinas River Corridor Project — an effort to protect, restore and enhance the water quality, habitat and flood control areas of the river, among other things.

The effort also aligns with a city visionary project called “Follow the River. Follow the Dream,” according to the city. Since 2005, the community has envisioned a project that preserves the river habitat and key vistas, enhances recreational trails, improves educational opportunities to learn about river habitat and history, redevelops Paso Robles Street for lake-front activities and provides new connections to the downtown core.

Funding the project

From the state grant, about $300,000 goes to habitat restoration work on plots the city now owns that were impacted by off-road vehicles and other elements as the town grew over the years.

After the restoration budget, up to $3.7 million remained for the city to buy the largest plot — the 154-acre Will family parcel — from private owners.

“At the time of the grant application, the purchase price per acre and amount of acreage we’d be successful in securing were unknown,” Williamson said. “In the end, the state paid $1.5 million for it.”

The city doesn’t get the remaining money.

Matching dollars were also needed for the grant.

The Festival of the Arts was conceived last year as a way to meet previous city goals — bringing culture to the downtown and adding an event to Memorial Day weekend, as well as providing a basis for soliciting matching dollars, William-son said.

The art pieces in the show are all inspired by the river in some way.

“By honoring the river as its focus, the festival was able to contribute directly to the success of the River Parkway Grant effort,” Williamson added.

It brought in $217,000 in matching funds in the form of sponsorship donations, volunteer time, advertising and logistical dollars spent, she said.

The amount generated in last year’s festival represented more than one-third in matching funds required in the grant. One-third is about $600,000 of the state’s total $1.8 million contribution.

Festival of the arts in downtown city park

Memorial Day weekend in Paso Robles will again feature art, entertainment and environmental awareness at the second annual Festival of the Arts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in Downtown City Park. Admission is free and all ages are welcome.

The event features a 10 a.m. Plein Air Quick Draw Competition and Auction, followed by events throughout the day such as:

• An art exhibit honoring the Salinas River

• Demonstrations

• A public mural project

• Hands-on art stations for children and teens

• Live music

• Performances

• Stilt walkers

• Scenic educational tours of habitats along the Salinas River. Free roundtrip shuttles depart from Downtown City Park at 11 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.

Beverages and trail mix will be available for purchase throughout the day. Other food vendors will not be present, but local eateries will be open. Dogs are not allowed in the Downtown City Park.

For more information and a map of festival activities, visit www.pasoartfestival.com.