Activist pushes for Montaña de Oro project

Land conservation activist Kara Blakeslee is urging area residents to pressure state officials to take the one last step needed to finalize a deal to add 2,400 acres to Montaña de Oro State Park.

For the past several years, Blakeslee and the American Land Conservancy have been working to raise the $21 million to purchase the Wild Cherry Canyon property in the Irish Hills behind Avila Beach.

The deal is complete except for $6.9 million in voter-approved bond funds from State Parks. The department has had the money in a fund since the 1990s; it is earmarked for land acquisitions in the Irish Hills.

However, the state’s Public Works Board must give its final approval before the money can be allocated. Blakeslee has been waiting six months for the board to schedule a hearing on the authorization.

“If the project is not placed on the PWB agenda, it is essentially doomed to fail, unless we act,” Blakeslee wrote in an email to supporters. She is the wife of state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.

The project has been subjected to reappraisals and other delays that have prevented it from getting a hearing. Kara Blakeslee is asking supporters of the project to send letters to Gov. Jerry Brown, State Parks Director Ruth Coleman and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird urging an expedited hearing.

“This should have been put on the agenda last fall,” she said. “There is really no reason why there should be a delay.”

If the deal continues to be delayed, other funding could be lost, the owners could decide to put the property back on the market, or it could increase in value, making it unaffordable. Originally, Blakeslee had hoped to have the deal completed and the property open to the public this summer.

If the deal is successful, the Wild Cherry Canyon project would be transferred to State Parks. Addition of the Wild Cherry Canyon property along with other smaller parcels in the area that have already been acquired would result in a 65 percent expansion of Montaña de Oro State Park.

The park would then stretch from Los Osos to Avila Beach and allow the creation of a new 20-mile stretch of the California Coastal Trail.

For more information about the Wild Cherry Canyon project, go to www.alcnet.org.

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.