Preserving canyon worth extra expense

If Wild Cherry Canyon were not such a special place, we’d be tempted to throw up our hands and say, “Enough already!”

Over the past few years, the project has hit so many snags that we’ve lost count, and it’s not out of the woods yet. The state is indicating that it will need a $1 million endowment fund to cover costs relating to the management of the 2,400 acres of coastal property in the Irish Hills behind Avila Beach — land that would be added to Montaña de Oro State Park.

Without that endowment, it appears almost certain that the state will not sign off on the acquisition.

That’s a significant change; previously, officials with State Parks had been willing to “bank” the property until funds were available to open it to public access. But with the state economy in turmoil, that’s no longer the philosophy. Before it agrees to accept new park land, the state now wants assurance that the acquisition won’t be aburden on taxpayers.

We were unable to turn up a written policy spelling that out, but there is precedent for requiring an endowment. In January 2011, the state added the 535-acre Little Basin to the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. That came with a $1.3 million endowment attached. At the time, officials indicated that the deal “represented a new paradigm for California State Parks.”

While that does make fiscal sense, we hope this “new paradigm” doesn’t wind up killing the Wild Cherry Canyon acquisition altogether — apossibility, because the option to purchase the property expires in the fall.

We’re concerned, too, that even if the $1 million is raised in time, there’s no guarantee the state will give its final blessing, though in the event that project doesn’t move forward, endowment contributions would be returned to the donors.

That said, we have urged support of the project every step along the way. We don’t believe it makes sense to change course on this final stretch.

Preservation of Wild Cherry Canyon would benefit the community in so many ways: by adding to an already impressive inventory of outdoor recreational areas, providing an important link in the California Coastal Trail and bolstering the county’s reputation as an eco-tourism destination, which in turn would help the local economy.

Consider, too, that the American Land Conservancy has spent years negotiating with landowners and putting together a patchwork of state and local grants and private donations to buy the land for $21 million — property that some expected to go for as much as $30 million.

This opportunity might not come again; if it requires an additional $1 million to seal the deal, we believe that’s a price worth paying.

Editorials are the opinion of The Tribune.