Plan to add Wild Cherry Canyon to Montaña de Oro State Park falls through

The higher elevations of the Wild Cherry Canyon property offer ocean views from Montaña de Oro to Point Sal on a clear day.
The higher elevations of the Wild Cherry Canyon property offer ocean views from Montaña de Oro to Point Sal on a clear day. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Ambitious efforts to conserve 2,400 acres called Wild Cherry Canyon between Avila Beach and Los Osos have failed.

A group of investors who own long-term leases to the land did not renew an option to sell that expired in January, thus killing the deal, said Kara Blakeslee, who has been working since 1999 to put the $21 million conservation deal together with the American Land Conservancy and other groups.

“Wild Cherry Canyon could have been done, and some 20 miles of new coastal trail could have been established, but endless delays by the state and others ultimately doomed its success,” Blakeslee said in a post on her Facebook page.

If the effort had been successful, the 2,400 acres would have been transferred to the State Parks Department and added to Montaña de Oro State Park. The effort enjoyed broad public support but got bogged down when the state Public Works Board failed to allocate the final $6.9 million needed to close the deal.

“It’s frustrating and heartbreaking,” Blakeslee said.

Denis Sullivan, owner of Cypress Ridge Golf Resort, is one of the owners of the leases in Wild Cherry Canyon the American Land Conservancy was seeking to buy. He said the property was “ridiculously underpriced” and the majority owners, Lucadia National Corp., lost patience with the many delays in closing the sale.

Over the years, the owners have given 13 different extensions on the purchase option and agreed to reduce the purchase price by $3 million. Sullivan does not know what will happen to the property now that the deal has fallen through.

“It’s very sad,” he said. “I don’t think we could have done any more.”

The money for the $21 million purchase price was supplied by a variety of state and local agencies with State Parks and the Wildlife Conservation Board providing the bulk. That money will now be available for other conservation projects, Blakeslee said.

The Wild Cherry Canyon property is owned by Eureka Energy, a subsidiary of PG&E. Sullivan and Lucadia own leases on the land that are good for 155 more years.

In addition to the purchase price, local activists were trying to raise an additional $1 million to be used as a maintenance endowment.

Also, more than 15,000 hours of maintenance labor had been pledged by the public as of the first of the year.

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