Environment

Conservation deal preserves one of SLO County's most scenic ranches

A view of the 1,779-acre Hill Ranch near Cayucos, which has been owned by the Fitzhugh family since the 1800s. The family created an agricultural conservation easement with the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County to preserve the land.
A view of the 1,779-acre Hill Ranch near Cayucos, which has been owned by the Fitzhugh family since the 1800s. The family created an agricultural conservation easement with the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County to preserve the land.

A scenic ranch along Highway 46 West that offers sweeping views of the Estero Bay will be preserved in perpetuity, thanks to an agreement between the landowner and the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County.

The 1,779-acre Hill Ranch north of Cayucos was preserved in April through a voluntary agricultural conservation easement, according to a Land Conservancy news release.

“Over the years, I have spoken with many people who wistfully talk about Highway 46 West being their therapeutic route to the coast from North County," said Kaila Dettman, executive director, in a statement.

"There are plenty of reasons why we all love this landscape. The iconic vistas, the happy cows, the abundant wildlife, and the hard-working families that have worked the land for generations; they are all emblematic of why we love to live, work and play in this county. I am grateful that we have been given the opportunity to protect a big piece of this incredible place."

The ranch is known for its grazing land, oak woodlands and beautiful views. Travelers can take a break at highway turnouts above the ranch and catch a glimpse of Estero Bay, Morro Rock and Irish Hills.

The land also is home to deer, bobcats, red-tailed hawks and other wildlife, in addition to the headwaters of Villa Creek and more than 2.5 miles of its stream.

The Fitzhugh family has owned and operated the property since the 1800s. The Land Conservancy obtained state funding to create the conservation easement, including a $2 million grant from the Strategic Growth Council and $750,000 from the California State Coastal Conservancy.

A $1 million charitable contribution from the landowner helped complete the funds needed for the easement, according to the Land Conservancy.

The ranch's livestock operation will continue as part of the conservation easement. Only two homes can be developed on the property, which cannot be subdivided.

“I’d like to keep this an open land for ranching, for the animals that are here," said Joy Fitzhugh, whose family owns the ranch. "There’re lots of other native animals here that (will stay) if it stays in ranching.”

Correction: This story has been updated to include the correct name for the state agency that awarded a grant to the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County. The Strategic Growth Council contributed $2 million in funding.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden


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